ST. PETERSBURG — The motorcyclist found on the side of Interstate 275 by highway workers on Thursday morning has been identified. That solved another mystery: What happened to James "Jimmy" Reid Butler IV?
The last time anyone saw the 27-year-old Lakewood Ranch man was about two weeks ago, on the night of Nov. 17, when he met up with his girlfriend in St. Petersburg. They both left to return to Manatee County in separate vehicles at about 2:30 a.m.
Butler rode his white 2002 Honda F41 motorcycle. He never made it home.
That's according to Facebook messages sent by his father, Reid Butler III, to the Tampa Bay Times and information from the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.
In the days that followed, family and friends hung "missing" posters, contacted local media and publicized Butler's disappearance on social media. His girlfriend Katie Ayers, 27, rented a helicopter and searched I-275 from the air, hovering over portions of the Pinellas Bayway and U.S. 19 where investigators said Jimmy Butler's cell phone last sent a signal before the battery died.
On land, members of the non-profit Peace River K9 Search and Rescue Association helped the family scour roads from the Sunshine Skyway Bridge to his parents' Lakewood Ranch home, where the 27-year-old lived with his girlfriend and young daughter.
Jimmy Butler was finally found just before 11 a.m. Thursday, by workers cleaning up the interstate. He was about 50 feet from the roadway, hidden by thick brush and trees lining the southbound shoulder of the interstate just north of 54th Avenue S, said Florida Highway Patrol Sgt. Steve Gaskins.
Broken pieces of plastic from his motorcycle were strewn nearby. Troopers believe Butler was riding south on I-275 when for unknown reasons he lost control of his motorcycle. His motorcycle left the roadway and traveled through the grass median until it crashed into several trees, according to a Highway Patrol report.
Butler was thrown from the motorcycle and was fatally injured at the scene of the crash, the report said.
His death prompted an outpouring of tributes from loved ones and strangers touched by his family's efforts to find "our Jimmy." His Facebook page says he moved to Florida after attending Heartland Community College in Normal, Ill. He owned his own business, JRB Painting and Pressure Washing. He and his girlfriend were getting ready to sign a lease on a new home, his family said.
Father Reid Butler III wrote about his son's death on Thursday in a post on a Facebook page he created to aid the family's search. He thanked the more than 5,000 followers for supporting the family and asked that they be allowed to "grieve in peace."
"Please remember what a joyous boy he was and how he grew into such a wonderful and loving man," the father wrote. "I don't know what else to say, but I can tell you that I am struggling to see the screen through my tears ...
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"Godspeed my dear son. I will miss you for the rest of my life ..."
Contact Anastasia Dawson at email@example.com or (813) 226-3377. Follow @adawsonwrites.