By Jessica Vander Velde and Justin George, Times Staff Writers
In Print: Saturday, October 2, 2010
Area cyclists were preparing for a vigil to honor those killed in a two-month wave of fatalities when they got the word:
Add another name to the list.
Just hours before the event, Diane M. Vega, 53, was killed by a sport utility vehicle that ran a red light. She is the sixth to die in an unusually fatal summer for cyclists in the bay area.
Friday night, more than 60 riders gathered in Seminole Heights where a roll call of the dead was read and a robed minister called for a moment of silence.
But anger burned for those who carried stories of their own crashes with cars or countless others tired of drivers who honk and pelt them with bottles.
“Six cyclists in six weeks?” said Ed Collins, whose father was one of the dead. “Right now, hopefully somebody in the city realizes something is wrong here. Capital W-R-O-N-G.”
Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio says some accidents are uncontrollable.
“What can government do? A government can’t improve the driving habits of every individual who’s out there,” she said. “Mass transit will take more cars off the road. That is something I’ve been working on for years, and that is something that I think will have a greater, more positive, effect on the Tampa Bay community than any (road) striping that can be done.”
Vega did nothing wrong, police said. She was waiting on the sidewalk at Spruce Street and Himes Avenue for the crosswalk light when an SUV driven by Josefina Rodriguez ran a red light. A car hit the SUV, sent it spinning toward the sidewalk. Vega was thrown into a concrete block house. Police found her bike wedged beneath the SUV.
Rodriguez, 41, previously had a clean Florida driving record but was cited on Friday for running the red light.
She won’t face criminal charges because she wasn’t showing signs of reckless disregard, police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said. Rodriguez didn’t appear impaired, and witnesses said she wasn’t driving extremely fast or weaving in traffic.
“By law, running a red light does not rise to the level of reckless disregard,” McElroy said.
That upsets Vega’s sister, JoAnn Vega, who works for the St. Petersburg Times.
“The saddest thing was my sister was on the sidewalk,” she said.
Diane Vega leaves three adult children and a 3-month-old granddaughter. Her family remembers her as a joyous woman who loved foreign movies and the beach.
“Diane was always on the move, trying to do new things and experience life as much as she could,” her daughters wrote. “Her wonderful smile could light up a room.”
Local law enforcement say it hasn’t been a particularly deadly year, but the past two months are unusual. The causes and scenarios vary.
On Sept. 25, Kayoko Ishizuka, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of South Florida, was killed in a hit-and-run on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard. Deputies questioned a man and impounded his red Ford Explorer, but no arrests have been made.
Like Vega, Ishizuka was doing everything right when she was struck. She wore a helmet, had lights on her bike and was in the bike lane, deputies said.
St. Petersburg police are still going through tips and evidence in the Sept. 12 hit-and-run crash that killed Neil Alan Smith, a Crab Shack Restaurant dishwasher.
The day before, New Port Richey resident Stephen Allen Ivey, 52, had ridden onto a two-lane road without stopping, Capt. Jeffrey Harrington said. Ivey struck a car that had the right-of-way. He wasn’t wearing a helmet, police said, and was ejected from his bike.
On Sept. 9, Chiles Elementary School art teacher Joe Dyals, 46, died after crossing the path of a minivan.
And on July 29, LeRoy “Roy” Collins Jr., 75, a retired two-star admiral and executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs, was struck by a sport utility vehicle.
The driver, Margaux Manuel, tried to help him at the scene, but Collins died at the hospital. Manuel, an obstetrics and gynecology resident at the University of South Florida, wasn’t cited or charged.
Before the riding vigil Friday night, bicycle advocate Alan Snel told the crowd to take their messages to elected officials. State Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, said she will do what she can.
“Bicyclists should not be afraid for their lives to ride bikes in this city,” she told the crowd.
Then riders boarded their bikes — one with a safety vest that read “I want a safe commute” — and rode off. Their bike lights flashed like candles in the dusk.
Times news researcher John Martin and staff writers Danny Valentine and Lee Logan contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.