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Driver in bike crash blames water in eyes

Joseph D. Pastore says he was on the way to visit his mother Sunday, his driver's window down.

Eastbound on 30th Avenue N, Pastore said, he suddenly felt water splashing into his eyes. He lowered his head and tried to clear his eyes.

The next thing he knew, Pastore said, his car was barreling into a pack of 25 bicyclists.

"I'm keeping them all in my prayers and hope that they recover," Pastore said of the victims, eight of whom remained hospitalized Monday. "That's all I can do right now."

James Ryder Sr., one of the cyclists in the pack, disputes that account.

He said that when he approached Pastore's car immediately after the accident, the windows were rolled up. Ryder, admittedly upset, said he demanded to know what happened.

He said that Pastore responded: " "It's just an accident, give me a break,' or something like that."

On Monday, police investigators trying to sort these and other accounts said it appears the accident was the result of mechanical malfunction, a medical incident or some type of impairment. They dismissed earlier accounts that the accident occurred as Pastore tried to pass another car near 30th Avenue N and 53rd Street.

"If anything, we're looking into the possibility that he might be impaired by prescription medication," said Officer Mike Jockers, the traffic homicide investigator for the St. Petersburg police department.

No charges were filed Monday in the crash that injured 14 bicyclists. Police submitted two blood samples to the medical examiner's office. Results should be available in six to 10 days.

Officers interviewed Pastore, 60, after the crash, but they declined Monday to discuss what he told them.

"He doesn't recall much about the crash," Jockers said.

Pastore, reached Monday at his Pinellas Park home on a quiet street overlooking a horse pasture, said he was "truly very, very sorry that it happened."

Pastore said he did not feel guilty because he did not think he was at fault.

"I'm not saying anything about remorse or guilt. I don't feel any remorse or guilt," he said. "I'm at peace with myself. . . . I know this was an accident."

But Ryder, the cyclist, said that after the accident Pastore displayed no sorrow.

"If I had just run over 15 people, I would be crying," said Ryder, 49, of Redington Beach. "He had no emotions whatsoever."

Further, Ryder said, none of the other cyclists could have squirted Pastore with water.

"I looked at the guy face-to-face, I didn't see any water on him or on his shirt," Ryder said.

A woman driving in front of Pastore saw the accident and contacted police Monday. She told police she heard a noise, thinking something was wrong with her car, and looked in her rearview mirror.

"All she saw was bicycles and bodies flying in the air," Jockers said.

Among the critically injured Sunday were David Arnold, 48, of St. Petersburg and Wendy Tocha, 26, of New York. They were in fair condition Monday.

Arnold, a computer support technician for St. Petersburg College, has been cycling or racing most of his life. He recalls passing people in the pack Sunday on his 2002 LeMond Buenos Aires and saying hello to people.

"I don't know what made me look _ probably the sound of a car, but I looked to the left and had half a second to process, "I'm going to get hit by a car,' " Arnold said during an interview from Bayfront Medical Center.

Arnold hit the windshield and tumbled over the car and into a driveway. His left leg sustained a shattered thighbone and compound fractures.

"My outside knee was shattered and had car parts in it," he said. The back of his leg, from his knee to lower calf, is missing skin and muscle. Arnold may need surgery and skin grafts.

Kip Vosburgh, 56, of Treasure Island, had his left ankle, left arm, right leg and right hip broken. He said the cyclists were about 4 miles into their bike ride when the accident happened.

Vosburgh, among those at Bayfront Medical Center on Monday, said he was riding in the back part of the group at 15 to 18 mph.

"All of a sudden, the group opened up in front of me," Vosburgh said. By the time he saw Pastore's car, it was too late. Car and cyclist collided head-on, said Vosburgh, who is retired from a marketing job with IBM.

"He came plowing through . . . ," Vosburgh recalled. "The impact of the car hit me."

Pastore said he had told his version of the events to several different authorities.

"You can get it from them. The story's the same. I don't need to put myself out there to defend not being guilty. What other people think is none of my business."

Pastore, cited for an improper lane change last November, said he was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time of Sunday's accident. He said he has been sober 19 years.

Pastore has diabetes, he said, and confirmed passing out in his parked car on Friday because of low blood sugar, as neighbors have reported.

But he said that he did not sense any medical problems when the accident happened Sunday. St. Petersburg Police Department spokesman George Kajtsa said preliminary tests indicated Pastore's blood-sugar level was normal at the time of the accident.

Pastore moved from San Diego to Florida several years ago with his wife, Irene Anne, who died Dec. 22.

"I'm not a churchgoing person but I believe in God. I think some things have to be left alone," Pastore said. He talked about the pain of losing his wife of 28 years.

"Everything that's happened to me in that last six months has been permanent. It hurts. That's all I'm saying," Pastore said.

"I can't be responsible for other people's lives. I don't have the power to do that. Life is not always fair, but it is what it is."

_ Times staff writer Leanora Minai and researcher Kitty Bennett contributed to this report.

Bikers beware

Florida had the most bicyclists killed and the highest bicyclist death rate in the nation in 2001, according to the most recent government statistics.

Death

Bicycle rate per

State deaths 100,000

Florida 126 0.77

S. Carolina 24 0.59

Hawaii 7 0.57

Arizona 29 0.55

Louisiana 22 0.49

Oregon 15 0.43

New Mexico 7 0.38

District of 2 0.35

Columbia

Maine 4 0.31

California 106 0.31

And in Florida, counties featuring tourists, large student populations or dense populations often had higher bicyclist injury rates.

Bicyclists Injury

injured rate per

County in 2001 100,000

Monroe 83 104.75

Alachua 102 46.29

Pinellas 390 42.17

Volusia 184 40.74

Sarasota 134 40.20

Manatee 107 39.27

Broward 597 35.68

Collier 90 33.95

Martin 41 31.67

Hillsborough 323 31.44

Sources: National Highway Traffic Saftey Administration, Florida Department of Highway Saftey and Motor Vehicles

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