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Hillsborough businessman, philanthropist Lance Ringhaver dies in crash with semi

Lance Ringhaver, pictured in 2003. [Times files]
Lance Ringhaver, pictured in 2003. [Times files]
Published Apr. 5, 2016

TAMPA — Lance C. Ringhaver, a local businessman who was one of the original owners of the Tampa Bay Rays and is credited with helping bring Major League Baseball to the bay area, was killed in a car crash in Hillsborough County on Monday evening.

He was 76.

Mr. Ringhaver was a member of a team led by the Rays' first principal owner, Vince Naimoli, that finally won an expansion franchise in 1995 after years of trying.

"It was a long fight and Lance was a big part of it," said Dick Crippen, senior adviser to the Rays and a newscaster during those years.

Mr. Ringhaver, a Cleveland native, led the construction equipment dealer Ring Power Corp. after his father, who founded the company, died in 1976. The company was based in St. Augustine at the time, but Mr. Ringhaver moved to Tampa in 1986 and launched Ringhaver Equipment Company under the umbrella of RPC, Inc. The companies later merged just before Mr. Ringhaver retired in 2003. Ring Power now has 26 branches in Florida with nearly 2,000 employees.

Mr. Ringhaver also served on the Tampa Port Authority Board for nine years after then-Gov. Jeb Bush appointed him in 1999. Some questioned his ability to serve as chairman of the board after he suffered a stroke in 2004, but he continued to serve for another four years.

Ringhaver's philanthropies included Tampa's Florida Aquarium, the YMCA and his alma mater, the University of Florida. He served on the University of Tampa Board of Trustees from 2002 to 2008 and was a member of the Hillsborough Community College Board of Trustees in the early 1990s.

"He was very community-oriented," said Chris Carter, Mr. Ringhaver's secretary since 1986.

Mr. Ringhaver also became interested in pursuing a baseball team for Tampa Bay soon after his arrival here. He and other investors gathered behind Naimoli, who came onto the scene after more than a decade of dead-end efforts that included bids to snag the Minnesota Twins in 1984, the Oakland A's in 1985, the Chicago White Sox in 1988, the Texas Rangers in 1989 and the Seattle Mariners in 1991 and 1992.

Mr. Ringhaver was part of the contingent that tried to buy and relocate the San Francisco Giants in 1992.

Mr. Ringhaver, who was still a minority owner of the team, was a life-long baseball fan. He attended the Rays' home opener on Sunday.

"He just had a life-long love of the sport," Carter said. "When there was an opportunity to bring baseball to the Tampa Bay area he wanted to be a part of it."

The Rays also put out a statement Tuesday: "The Rays join the entire Tampa Bay community in mourning the passing of Lance Ringhaver. He was a founding member of the Rays ownership group and a key figure in helping secure the franchise. Beyond his love for the Rays, Lance's influence as one of Florida's premier businessmen and philanthropists helped shape much of Tampa Bay's development over the past four decades."

Florida Highway Patrol troopers said Mr. Ringhaver was driving south in the center lane of U.S. 41 in Palm River-Clair Mel about 8:35 p.m. Monday when a semi trying to turn north onto 41 from Towaway Avenue failed to a complete a full left turn, blocking the southbound lanes. Mr. Ringhaver's Infiniti hit the trailer and became wedged underneath, troopers said.

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Mr. Ringhaver, who lived in Apollo Beach, died at the scene.

The truck's driver, 38-year-old Isbel Perez Guzman of Tampa, was not injured. Guzman was cited for failing to yield the right of way.

Mr. Ringhaver is survived by his daughters, Deborah Lane of Crescent City and Sherri Geddes of Jacksonville; his twin sons, Mark Ringhaver of Odessa, and Lance Kendall Ringhaver of Jacksonville; and nine grandchildren.

Services had not yet been set Tuesday.

Crippen said Mr. Ringhaver was a "true southern gentleman" who took pride in his role in Tampa Bay's baseball history and the team.

"He was a good supporter of the team as well as being an investor," Crippen said. "He was proud to be there and proud to be a part of it."

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