JAN. 10: Police have released new details about the driver and what led to the crash. Read more here. Friends have identified the 70-year-old Tampa man they say was killed on Bayshore Boulevard. Read about his life here.
TAMPA — Christopher Martinez noticed the white pickup truck because it was driving erratically as it sped past him on Bayshore Boulevard on Thursday morning. It must have been doing 60 mph, he thought.
About 10 seconds later, he saw the Pinch a Penny pool supply truck had crashed head-on into the balustrade. The driver was lying injured on the ground. Martinez, a University of Tampa senior, stopped to help when he heard someone shout:
“Oh my God, there’s a body in the water.”
Martinez ran to the railing and saw a man face down in the waters of Hillsborough Bay.
He jumped in and lifted his head out of the water. The man was severely injured.
Another two passersby jumped in to help. Together, they held the man’s head out of the water and anxiously searched for a pulse. They couldn’t find one. The water was waist deep. There were no steps nearby to carry him back onto land, so they leaned against the sea wall and waited for help. As the minutes ticked past, they stayed quiet, speaking only to share their names.
When they arrived, firefighters used ladders and a basket to lift the man out of the bay and rushed him to a hospital. Tampa police said he later died of his injuries.
“I was just doing what I needed to do," said Martinez, 22. "You see something happen, you react.”
The driver, Benjamin Douglas Ehas, 31, was arrested that night on charges of DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide.
He had a blood-alcohol content level of 0.234, according to Tampa police. That is nearly three times the level at which Florida law presumes impairment, which is 0.08.
The crash took place at about 11:13 a.m., and Ehas was hospitalized soon afterward. That is where police said they obtained his blood for testing. No information about his medical condition was released. He was interviewed by detectives at the hospital.
Police said earlier in the day that speed may also have been a factor. The speed limit on Bayshore Boulevard is 35 mph.
Tampa police did not release the name of the pedestrian because of the department’s interpretation of Marsy’s Law, a state constitutional amendment designed to protect crime victims.
The crash took place just north of Bayshore and W Julia Street, police said. A 5-foot section of the balustrade was left badly damaged, reduced to just rebar in some spots. A running shoe lay on the ground nearby.
Tampa Fire Rescue spokesman Jason Penny said a hazardous materials team was sent to clean up pool chemicals believed to have spilled during the crash. Some substances, such as chlorine, ended up in Hillsborough Bay.
“There were some jugs of chlorine and tablets, but (police) divers were in the water quickly to bring that stuff out,” Penny said.
The driver’s employer, Pinch a Penny, issued this statement:
“Pinch A Penny is shocked and saddened by the tragic incident that occurred this morning involving an employee of a franchised location in Tampa. An investigation is currently underway and the local franchisee is fully cooperating with authorities. We send our deepest sympathies to the family and friends of those involved.”
Bayshore’s famed 4.5 mile unbroken, elevated sidewalk is a magnet for pedestrians, joggers, strollers and skaters. It is Tampa Bay’s most scenic walk — one also plagued by speeding, reckless driving and horrific crashes.
On Feb. 3, 2004, Melissa McKenzie was about to start her morning jog when the 39-year-old mother was struck and killed at Bayshore Boulevard and El Prado Boulevard by a motorcycle going 80 mph. The rider, a Navy petty officer headed to MacDill Air Force Base, was doing 80 mph in a 40 mph zone. He later agreed to a sentence of 5 years in prison.
Then on May 23, 2018, Jessica Raubenolt, 24, was pushing her 21-month-old daughter Lillia’s stroller across a Bayshore Boulevard crosswalk south of W Euclid Avenue when both were fatally struck by Ford Mustang doing 102 mph, police said.
Two male drivers, ages 18 and 17, were arrested on charges of vehicular homicide, accused of racing just before the crash. A 20-year-old passenger faces a misdemeanor charge of unlawful racing.
University of Tampa students Sofia Stack, 22 and Lauren Hoffmann, 21, stopped their lunchtime jog Thursday to take in the accident scene. Stack, who runs along Bayshore almost every day, said she knew it was dangerous crossing Bayshore. But until now she thought herself safe while using the linear park along the water, which is separated from the busy roadway by a 4-inch curb and a strip of grass.
“We walk here all the time,” Stack said. “What if it had happened to us?”
The 2018 deaths prompted the city to lower the speed limit from 40 to 35 mph. It also reduced the width of travel lanes to 10 feet and added seven flashing pedestrian beacon crossings, said Tampa Transportation and Stormwater Services Department Director Jean Duncan. Buffers were also added to parts of the road’s bicycle lane.
Advocacy group Walk Bike Tampa has campaigned for more traffic calming measures along Bayshore. Member Alexander Engelman said the city should add speed bumps, roundabouts and close the northbound lanes to traffic on weekends so it can only be used by joggers and cyclists.
“It’s the crown jewel of our city and we treat it as a divided highway,” he said. “Three deaths in two years is a horrific record.”
Bette Crowder, who has lived along Bayshore Boulevard for five years, said she always sees cars speeding by. The city, she said, hasn’t done enough:
“They lowered the speed limit but unless they start getting serious about giving out tickets, it’s not going to make much difference.”
Martinez was on his way to the university when the crash took place. It was only after he got out of the water that he realized he had thrown his car keys onto the ground before jumping into the water. He lost his glasses in the rescue attempt.
A history major, he is taking ROTC classes and plans to become an Army officer when he graduates in May.
“You always ask yourself how you would react,” he told the Tampa Bay Times afterward. “I just wish somebody didn’t have to get hurt.”
Times staff writer Kavitha Surana contributed to this report.
Editor’s note: This story was updated with new information that the man killed in the Bayshore Bouelvard crash was walking at the time.
If you have any information about Bayshore crash
Detectives ask anyone who witnessed Thursday’s fatal crash, or who has video of the driver before the incident, to contact the Tampa Police Department by calling (813) 231-6130 or leaving an anonymous tip online.