TAMPA — More than 24 hours after a hit-and-run crash killed a young father of two riding his bike to work, Steven Duane Baker called the Florida Highway Patrol, investigators say.
By then, every local news outlet had reported the details of the early Tuesday morning crash on U.S. 301 near Sligh Avenue that killed 28-year-old Jacob “Jake” Weinert. The news reports said investigators were searching for a white pickup.
Baker, 61, of Thonotosassa told investigators that he struck something in his 2003 Dodge pickup at the time and place of the crash, but didn’t know what, troopers said. Within hours of making that call Wednesday morning, Baker was arrested at his home on Royal Palm Tree Drive on charges of leaving the scene of a fatal crash and destroying evidence.
After the crash, troopers say, Baker kept driving, went to work, then purchased white spray paint and painted his crumpled hood.
Baker’s claim that he had didn’t know what he hit “defies logic,” said Highway Patrol Sgt. Steve Gaskins.
“If you look at the damage, (Weinert) came over the hood of the truck,” he said. “If you hit something so hard you need to go buy spray paint, maybe you should’ve stopped and checked.”
Baker was driving south on U.S. 301, approaching Sligh Avenue, when he moved to the right turn lane at about 4:40 a.m. Tuesday. Then the left front end of his pickup struck the back of Weinert’s bike, who was also riding south on 301, troopers said.
Weinert was in a marked turn lane and had a front light but no rear light on his bike. A photo released by the Highway Patrol showed the bike’s pedals were equipped with yellow reflectors.
It’s likely that Baker didn’t see Weinert, Gaskins said. But if Baker had stopped, checked and called for help, he wouldn’t be facing a felony charge that could land him in prison for up to 30 years, Gaskins said.
“He did this to himself,” Gaskins said.
Baker was being held Wednesday at the Hillsborough County Jail in lieu of $17,000 bail. Jail records list his occupation as a control manager at US Foods.
Weinert was living with friends in the area and was on his way to his job as a forklift operator at a warehouse, his fiancee Izabel Sgiers told the Tampa Bay Times. The couple have a 15-month old son and a three-week old daughter, and Weinert was saving money to move Sgiers and the children from Illinois to Florida, she said. Weinert’s family started a GoFundMe to raise money to have his remains returned to Illinois, and to help support his two babies.
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Sgiers doesn’t believe Baker’s story, either.
“You will never be able to bring my Jake back,” she said Wednesday in a Facebook message to the Times, directing her comments to Baker. “You will never be able to give my kids their daddy back. You knew you hit a person, a 250-pound man. You are an awful person.”
Times senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.