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Car slams into 20 cyclists

It was a beautiful Sunday morning, and several dozen bicyclists moved two abreast like a caterpillar through the residential streets of St. Petersburg.

Kip Vosburgh was near the back of the pack when he heard screams, looked up and saw a Lincoln Continental mowing down the cyclists, spraying them over the hood, onto the street and into the gutter.

"It was almost like Moses and the Red Sea was parting," Vosburgh said. "Then I was looking right at the grille of the car."

Vosburgh was flipped over the hood and into the gutter, his leg and arm broken.

He was one of about 20 cyclists hit, 13 of of whom were hospitalized. Three were in serious condition Sunday night. The others were in fair condition or were treated and released.

The driver, Joseph D. Pastore, 60, of Pinellas Park, told police he was trying to pass another car when he plowed into the line of bikes. Police are investigating whether Pastore, who carried a cane and has disability license plates, was impaired or suffered from a medical condition.

Pastore, who was released from Ed White Hospital after the crash, declined to speak to reporters. No charges were filed, though an investigation continues.

Two of Pastore's neighbors said he passed out in his car Friday. Neighbor Stephenie Payne said she was pulling out of her driveway and saw him.

"I backed up to see if he was okay," she said. "Then he woke up."

The crash occurred about 8:40 a.m. on 30th Avenue N just west of 53rd Street, a thin ribbon of residential street.

The 30 to 40 cyclists, many with the St. Petersburg Bike Club or the St. Pete Mad Dog Triathlon Club, were pedaling west. They had met at the main library about 10 minutes earlier and were on a trip that takes them to Clearwater Beach and back through the island cities. Most were going less than 20 mph.

"Everybody was just chatting," said Debra Ryder, out for her first ride with the group.

The cyclists have taken the route every Sunday for many years. They have close calls with motorists from time to time, but nothing similar to what happened Sunday.

Witnesses said the eastbound Continental veered toward the cyclists, cutting into the group head-on about halfway through their ranks, then dispatching the cyclists like dominoes.

"There's no way he could not have seen us," Ryder said. "He went to pass, he accelerated and he never slowed down."

While cyclists were tumbled and tossed, the car sheared through their bikes, swallowing them underneath and snapping them in pieces.

Most of the injured were in the inside line near the curb. Cyclist Sam Miller was in the outside line pedaling next to a woman taking the Sunday ride for the first time. When Miller saw the car chucking cyclists, he wrenched his bike left. The car whipped past him, missing by inches. But it struck the woman.

"There was nowhere to go. She went right into it. You didn't have much time to think," Miller, 43, said.

Cyclists slammed into the car's windshield, cracking it into a spider web of glass. Bike wheels and handlebars went spinning. Some riders were thrown so forcefully off their cycles that their shoes remained in the pedals.

"Men and women were screaming, bodies were flying," Ryder said. "A wheel went flying right in front of me. It was like an explosion. There were bicycle parts everywhere, blood everywhere."

Miller estimated the car was going 30 mph. The car left no skid marks.

The car ran over a curb, the bikes underneath it scraping against the sidewalk, eventually stopping it. One neighbor inside his house thought a car had knocked over garbage cans. Another said it sounded like a car thumping fence posts.

Neighbors reported hearing Pastore say a variety of things.

"He said, "I must have hit something,' " said Roy Luers, whose yard was the car's final resting place. "He was out of it. He didn't know."

Another said Pastore told her something had flown into his eye. Another saw a diabetic necklace dangling from his neck.

Pastore told police he tried to pass another car, even though he was traveling in a no-pass zone. Police want to find the other motorist, who was driving an older-model, light-colored, foreign-made car. That motorist is not facing charges, police said.

Neighbors and cyclists with cell phones dialed 911 while tending to the wounded. Ten ambulances were dispatched. Ryder tended to a man with serious leg and pelvis injuries. His helmet was split down the back.

Two cyclists were taken by helicopter to Bayfront Medical Center. Others were taken by ambulance to Bayfront, Northside Hospital and St. Anthony's Hospital.

The three in serious condition at Bayfront were David Arnold, Maria Riquet and Ronald Diner, a hospital spokesman said. Their ages and addresses were not available.

Police said the cyclists were wearing helmets. According to state law, bicycling two abreast is legal; three abreast is not.

Vosburgh, 56, who began seriously cycling a few years ago, said he planned a bike trip with his wife, Carol Jean, in Nova Scotia in August.

When she arrived at the hospital, he immediately asked about his bike, a red titanium Serrota costing $6,000. She said it was in pieces.

The cyclists said their group is tight-knit. The St. Petersburg Bike Club has about 260 members, while the Mad Dog group has about 800 local members.

"That's why we travel in groups. There's safety in numbers," Carol Jean Vosburgh said.

Despite the accident, the cyclists said they would continue to ride.

"I have no intention of not going back," Vosburgh said from his hospital bed. "In life, I'd rather wear out than rust out."

_ Times staff writer Megan Scott and editor Tom Scherberger contributed to this report.

How it happened

As many as 40 cyclists were riding west on 30th Avenue N Sunday morning when a car traveling east attempted to pass a slow-moving car. It veered across the double yellow lines, injuring 13 cyclists.