Bicyclist Stuck and Killed: Accident Brings Area’s Bicycle Fatality Count to Six in Summer of 2010

Tampa, FL – 53-year-old bicyclist, Diane M. Vega of 306 South Habana Avenue, was struck and killed by an SUV while waiting on a sidewalk for a crosswalk signal to change.

Vega is the sixth bicycle fatality in Hillsborough County since July 29th, and the fourth to occur in the city of Tampa.  The accident occurred just hours before a planned bicycle ride/rally that was aimed at drumming up awareness for bicycle safety.

The bicycle fatality total from this summer alone already equals the total for the entire year of 2009.

The accident took place on Friday, October 1st around 730AM at the corner of West Spruce Street and North Himes Avenue.

As Vega waited to cross Himes Avenue, a Nissan Murano ran the red light and struck a Lincoln Town Car. According to police, the Nissan then careened toward the sidewalk where it struck Vega and killed her instantly.

The Town Car was spun into a nearby GMC Yukon that was stopped at the red light. Police later recovered Vega’s mangled Huffy bicycle from underneath the Nissan.

The driver of the SUV that ran the red light and caused the crash was cited by police for unlawfully passing through a red light.  The driver was identified as Josefina Rodriguez, 41, of 2903 West Burke Street.

The driver of the Lincoln, whose name has not been released, and Rodriguez were both treated for minor injuries at St. Joseph’s Hospital.

After striking the bicyclist, the Nissan skidded and crashed into a nearby house.

Larry McGrath, age 82, has lived in the house that was struck since 1952.  McGrath told authorities, “I was having a drink of coffee and I heard a crash…I said, ‘There’s another wreck.”

The homeowner planted several trees in a row along the southern end of his property in the 1960s to protect it from out-of-control car crashes.

Activists and safety advocates had already organized a 15-mile bicycle ride on Friday to commemorate the five cyclists who had been killed over the past 2 months. Members of the group want people to speak out and demand that politicians recognize the need to improve bicyclist safety.

Approximately 60 bicyclists in all were in attendance for the “Honor the Fallen Bike Ride”.  The trek led into downtown Tampa, through Ybor City, and returned to the start in Seminole Heights.

A reverend led a moment of silence after the names of the fallen bicyclists were announced by the event’s organizer, Alan Snel.

Tammy Briant Spratling and her husband, Kareem Spratling, of Tampa Heights, decided to join the group ride just before it took place on Friday night.  The husband and wife duo often bike together through downtown Tampa.  After learning of Vega’s deadly accident earlier the same day, the couple felt an overwhelming need to join up with the organized effort.

Bicyclist Ed Schessl, of Port Richey, expressed heightened concern over the high percentage of bike fatalities this summer in saying, “It makes me want to stay on the trails – the bike trails or the dirt trails.”

Alan Snel has gone on to blame elected officials for inattention to the bicycling infrastructure, citing bike trails and “Share the Road” signs as examples.

Beginning this past summer, city planners initiated a study on pedestrian and bicyclist safety in Tampa.  The City Council looks for official conclusions to be issued by November.

Snel plans to bring the subject before the council next week. In further commentary regarding the recent fatality, Snel implores, “My bicycle friends are extremely upset because this woman was an innocent bystander.”  “For the grace of God, it could have been any one of us.”

Just after receiving news of Friday’s accident, Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe posted on Twitter the he plans to address bicyclist safety at the commission’s next meeting on Wednesday.  Sharpe stated his intentions to work with Snel on 10 or more new ways to promote safety and awareness for Tampa’s bicyclists, motorists, and pedestrians alike.

The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles reported that the total number of bicycle fatalities on Florida roadways was 99 in 2009, a decrease of 16 percent from the previous year.  However, the number of automobile accidents involving bicyclists decreased by only one over the same time period, down from 4,775 to 4,774 in 2009.

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