TAMPA — Just before 10 a.m. Saturday, a small group gathered by the water at the intersection of Bayshore Boulevard and West Julia Street. Pedestrians and bicyclists darted across four lanes of traffic and a median until the group had grown to more than 50 people.
They were there to remember George Gage, 70, a retired financial trust officer who friends identified as the victim in a fatal accident Thursday on Bayshore. Gage was walking near his home when he was struck by a white Ford F-150. The collision threw him into Hillsborough Bay.
Except for a single unofficial crossing point, where Tampa police directed foot and vehicle traffic, attendees for the vigil faced the same safety issues they were gathered to discuss.
“I don’t know how many more people have to die, but I believe at some point, something will be done" to make the road safer, said Bill Josey, one of Gage’s friends.
The mourners carried shoelaces, which they tied together into a rope and strung across the street, for a moment blocking traffic in both directions. According the vigil’s organizers, the laces represented the mourners’ unity.
“This one kind of hit home,” said Martin Hernandez, an auto accident lawyer who lives near Bayshore.
Hernandez exercises on the road three to four times a week and rides bicycles there with his 14-year-old daughter, Regan, on weekends.
“My kids’ school is right in front of it,” he said.
She and her classmates cross the street all the time, he added.
He and others who gathered Saturday want a change. Hernandez suggested concrete posts along the edge to protect pedestrians and cyclists. Josey wants it to be a park. Take Back Bayshore, a group advocating for safer design, has at least four different ideas — all ways to discourage speeding while keeping the area accessible to the public.
“Bayshore feels like a highway where speeding is expected, not the park and community resource it should be,” a flyer from the group said.
Just 30 minutes before the vigil and a few miles away, Benjamin Douglas Ehas — the man accused of killing Gage — came before a judge for the first time. He was ordered held without bail.
Ehas, 31, was being pushed in a wheelchair when he appeared in a Hillsborough County Court telecast Saturday morning. Sitting in a gray-green uniform with his hands in his lap, Ehas did not speak or react during his brief appearance before Hillsborough County judge Michael Scionti.
The arrest report said that Ehas was driving a Pinch A Penny pool supply truck between 60 and 70 mph in the 35 mph zone when he struck Gage.
Tampa police have not confirmed the victim was Gage, citing the department’s interpretation of Marsy’s Law.
Investigators said Ehas admitted to smoking marijuana early Thursday morning and having a double shot of Fireball Cinnamon Whisky midmorning. When his blood was drawn at a hospital that day, investigators said, his blood-alcohol content was 0.234, nearly triple the level the state considers impaired, 0.08.
Ehas’ next hearing is scheduled for Wednesday at 11. a.m.