TAMPA — Michael Duriel Lee was riding his bicycle to work Tuesday morning when he was struck by a hit-and-run motorist on an overpass along U.S. 92, flew over a guardrail and died in a retention area 80 feet below.
A day later, investigators matched a green chip of paint from the crash scene to a section of paint from the hood of a 1999 Ford Ranger pickup owned by Christopher Jacob Kimmel of Valrico.
Kimmel, 23, was arrested Wednesday on a charge of leaving the scene of a crash involving death, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office said.
The incident highlights not only how much more work needs to be done to make county roads safer, bicycle safety advocates said, but also the need for riders and drivers to understand the rules of Florida roads.
Under state law, bicycles are considered vehicles and have the same rights as motorists, said Tim Bustos, executive director of the Florida Bicycle Association.
Motorists should yield to bicycle riders and pass when it’s safe to do so, he said. There should be a 3-foot buffer between the vehicle and the bicyclist when the vehicle passes.
Bustos said he had read about Lee’s crash in news reports.
“When you see a crash like this, it’s inexplicable,” he said. “We have to ask why this motorist didn’t see the bicyclist.”
Bicyclists, who by law are allowed full use of the traffic lane, are actually safer on the roadway than riding close to the shoulder, he said.
Bustos said a driver’s cone of vision is small when viewing objects on the periphery. When bicyclists ride farther away from a curb or shoulder, they move closer to a driver’s line of sight.
“You don’t have to hug that white line,” Bustos said. “What it does is make you less visible.”
Lee, 29, was riding at 7:50 a.m. Tuesday on the right shoulder of the U.S. 92 overpass near an off ramp for Interstate 4 and the Florida State Fairgrounds when he was hit by the pickup, investigators said.
Kimmel drove away from the crash, and his truck was found behind Ben’s Restaurant, 704 Brandon Blvd. E., after deputies received an anonymous tip Wednesday afternoon, sheriff’s spokeswoman Debbie Carter said.
The paint chip from the crash scene matched a section of missing paint from the hood of the truck, she said.
Kimmel works at Ben’s and went to the restaurant about 9 a.m. Tuesday to see his brother, who also works at the restaurant, deputies said. Christopher Kimmel was taken to a hospital in Brandon by his brother because Kimmel had a cut on his head, deputies said.
Jim Shirk, the chairman of the Hillsborough County Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee, said he’s familiar with the section of U.S. 92 where Lee died.
“There’s a bike lane there for that entire stretch,” Shirk said. “But, frankly, that bike lane is an atrocity. There’s pieces of glass everywhere and some sections need to be repaved.”
Shirk said it’s possible Lee rode out of the bike lane to avoid debris and that the morning sun could have obscured Kimmel’s vision on the overpass.
Yet riders and bicycles still must be cognizant of state traffic laws, he said.
“You have to share the road,” Shirk said. “Incidents like this remind us that we still have a lot of work to do.”