Car clips TV critic in St. Pete Beach

Published March 19, 1994|Updated Oct. 6, 2005

Jim Seel was driving along Gulf Boulevard on Thursday night when a man with a bushy mustache ran across the street.

Seel swerved to avoid the darkly dressed figure, but the bumper of his Mazda RX-7 clipped the man's leg.

Shaken but unhurt, Seel turned his car around and stopped. The man was lying against the curb and Seel kept looking at him and his mustache.

Both looked familiar.

Not until paramedics were lifting the man into an ambulance did Seel learn he had just hit a celebrity _ Gene Shalit of NBC's Today show.

"This is my 15 minutes of fame," the 23-year-old Seel told his mother later Thursday night.

Shalit, who turns 58 next week, was listed in good condition Friday at Palms of Pasadena Hospital. His right leg was fractured in three places when he was hit by the Mazda.

Shalit, a longtime fan of St. Petersburg and baseball, had come to Florida this week to cover the New York Mets' spring training. The hospital released a statement Friday saying the arts and entertainment critic was recovering.

He was crossing the 4800 block of Gulf Boulevard about 9:10 p.m. Thursday when he noticed a car heading north toward him, St. Pete Beach police said.

Shalit tried dashing out of the car's path, but the right front bumper hit him.

Seel, who was making a food delivery, told police and his mother that he almost lost control of his Mazda as it swerved about 100 feet. "I saw a blur of a dark shirt in front of me, and I had no time to move," Seel said.

He circled back to find a man between the sidewalk and street. "God, I thought I had killed somebody because I couldn't see him until I walked up to him," Seel said.

The man asked Seel to take him to a hospital, but Seel suggested they wait for an ambulance.

"I knew I had seen him somewhere. I thought he looked like somebody on TV," Seel said. "I was thinking about asking him if he was somebody famous or something, but it didn't seem appropriate at the time."

Seel recalled what happened after he arrived home, still shaking from the ordeal and telling his mother that Shalit seemed very nice and apologetic about the accident. "Mr. Shalit admitted that he was at fault," said his mother, Patricia Seel.

Police issued no citations, saying that Seel was not speeding and was not driving drunk.

Shalit, who has appeared in advertisements endorsing the Times, was staying on St. Pete Beach during his spring training assignment. He also was scheduled to tape a commentary about the Academy Awards with humorist Dave Barry on Tuesday in Tampa, but the segment has been canceled because of the accident.

While it may leave Shalit off the air awhile, it's putting Seel into the limelight.

He was awakened at 6:20 a.m. Friday by radio news reporters seeking comment, but Seel was taking his newfound fame in stride. He spent the afternoon with his buddies and getting his right front fender repaired.

"I feel bad I hit somebody. There wasn't much I could do about it," Seel said. "I'm going to call and see how he's doing and apologize again for hitting him."