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Wednesday, Sep 17, 2014

Man pleads guilty in crash that killed bicyclists

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Published:   |   Updated: April 16, 2014 at 08:55 PM

CLEARWATER — After he finished his shift as a barback at Shepard’s Beach Resort, Christopher Weed had three to four shots of liquor, drank one or two beers, and, when a friend failed to show up to give him a ride, hopped into his pickup truck to drive home, prosecutors say.

It was Labor Day. As he headed east on Memorial Causeway around 6:15 a.m., he struck two people riding a tandem bicycle, then kept driving.

The man on the bicycle, Robert Lemon, 25, died that day at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa. His girlfriend, Hilary Michalak, 27, was in a coma for a couple of weeks before she too died at Bayfront Health St. Petersburg.

On Wednesday, Weed, 30, pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident involving death.

As part of an arrangement between Weed’s attorney, Assistant Public Defender Adam Pylitt, and the prosecutor, Assistant State Attorney Scott Rosenwasser, Weed is to be sentenced on May 19 to 132 months, or 11 years, in prison, followed by 36 months of probation. Had Weed been found guilty by a jury, he could have been sentenced to 30 years.

Weed was not sentenced Wednesday because the victims’ families, who live out of state, needed some time to make travel arrangements, Rosenwasser said outside court. They are expected to speak at the May 19 sentencing.

The families agreed to the 11-year sentence, Rosenwasser said.

“They’re relieved to have the case closed early so they can move on with their lives,” Rosenwasser said.

Weed’s mother was in court Wednesday, but declined to talk to reporters after her son’s plea.

After he struck the tandem, Weed drove to his house in Clearwater and told his roommate he had hit something, “possibly a person,” Rosenwasser said. His roommate stepped outside and saw the pickup, which was significantly damaged, the prosecutor said. The front windshield was removed at some point.

Weed sent a text message to Shepard’s, saying he wouldn’t be working his next shift as a barback, a bartender’s assistant. He claimed to have a family emergency, the prosecutor said.

Though he told his roommate and a couple of other people, all of whom worked at Shepard’s, that he had struck something on his way home, he later claimed he had blacked out once he got home after the wreck and didn’t remember anything, Rosenwasser said. Weed didn’t have a medical condition that would cause him to black out, and investigators were told the only time he did pass out was as the result of drinking.

The night before the wreck, video surveillance cameras at the resort captured Weed drinking after his shift, and then leaving the resort by himself, Rosenwasser said.

Once he gets out of prison, Weed has to serve 150 hours of community service. Two of those hours have to be served on the anniversary of the crash.

sthompson@tampatrib.com. (727) 215-6504.

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