Sunday, August 1, 2010

In Ed's Own Words

(Blogger's note: I asked my bicyclist friend Ed Collins to email some thoughts about his dad, LeRoy Collins, who was tragically killed July 29 while riding a bicycle in Tampa. He was broadsided by a SUV driver who was turning left in an intersection. I wanted to include Ed's thoughts in a column I wanted to write. When Ed's email arrived this morning, I was moved by the heart-felt words written by Ed. Which is why I am leaving Ed's email intact and publishing it with Ed's blessing. It's a moving, powerful and thoughtful essay written by a son who has lost his dad.)

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By Ed Collins

This is yet another morning I hope to wake up and find out this was all a dream. There is that brief moment when you open your eyes and your mind has yet to reload all the issues you were facing as you fell asleep. Sadly, all of those thoughts have returned with many new ones.

On almost every Sunday, I would leave my house at 7AM, to go ride with my friends in San Antonio . This was the one ride every week I would look anxiously forward to, not only for the spectacular riding, but for the camaraderie with my friends. Today I could not do it. My wife suggested I should do something “normal” such as go on this ride this morning, however, I could not. I guess you can understand why.

Today is Sunday. It has been four days since my father was killed riding his bike the three miles from his house to the boathouse at the University of Tampa . This was a route he travelled two to four times a week. He had on his usual outfit. This usually consisted of some ill-fitting athletic shorts, some ancient t-shirt that was well past its prime and his super-high reflective safety vest he purchased to help keep this sort of tragedy from happening.

His bike had lights. It was a well worn mountain bike that was a horrible yellow color. He was riding on the sidewalk to further improve his odds. He approached the crosswalk that I am sure he has crossed numerous times. This is where people coming from the Crosstown Expressway and downtown Tampa turn left to go onto Davis Islands and Tampa General Hospital . It was early in the morning. He had probably been up for at least an hour. (My mom hated that because he was always noisy as he got ready.) Then he was struck…

I have made a few calls about the lady who hit him. From what I have been told, she is kind, and as sweet as apple pie. I wanted to make sure she was not a “schmuck”. I was told she is not. The one item that I think is COMPLETELY inexcusable? She will never show any of this accident on her driving record! You see, the woman who killed my father, the woman who struck a pedestrian in the crosswalk, the woman who didn’t take one extra second to look to the left before hitting the gas on her SUV, has a clean driving record of the accident because she was never charged with anything – not even a ticket for failing to yield.

When the driver goes to renew her auto insurance next year, the carrier will take many things into account before her policy is issued: her age, her vehicle. Does she have any children? Is she married? How many miles does she drive to work? Is her vehicle commercial? The once question they will not ask her is “has she killed anyone in the past 12 months”?

Based upon the severity of your offense, you receive points in the state of Florida . If you get a high number of points, your auto insurance rates will increase. Get enough points due to careless driving, and you will lose your license. In this case she will receive ZERO points on her license for killing my father. You get more points for having a burned-out taillight. I guess a taillight is somehow more dangerous than killing a father of four and grandfather of eight. I guess a man who tries to help wounded Iraqi veterans find a new lease on life is less valuable than a 50-cent light bulb in Tampa .

The exact cause of death of my father was a broken C-2 vertebra. According to the driver who hit my father, she did not hit him “that hard.” She, in effect, broke his neck by “tapping” him with her SUV. The medical examiner performed an autopsy based upon her comments because she thought there was no way she could have killed him with such a light impact. They investigated to see if he had a stroke or heart attack instead. I guess an SUV couldn’t have possibly done anything to contribute to this accident. They were wrong. The driver broadsided my father in a crosswalk with her car, and his neck snapped like a twig on impact, ending his life and his contributions to ours.

The insurance company assumes that a driver who has caused any accidents or has in this case committed manslaughter would be issued SOME SORT OF CITATION. For some reason, in this case she was not. Upon questioning other friends, this seems to be some sort of trend in the city of Tampa . I guess Mayor Pam Iorio's campaign promise to make Tampa a more “livable city” only applies to people in an SUV, and not to pedestrians in a cross-walk.

Pam Iorio was once overheard saying at a Seminole Heights Bicycle Club ride that she would never ride her bike in the city because it was “too dangerous.” I guess she should call someone in government who has the authority to do something about it. Who might that be, Pam?

“Why is it only people in a car, deserve safe transportation”? This was a quote I read from a mayor who had redesigned his city to allow multi-modal travel for its people. It has stuck with me, even more so now.

I find in interesting to point out how this is the same stretch of road where a homeless lady was killed by a hit and run driver recently, and the city saw no need to pursue any course of action against that driver either. It wasn’t until the people found out that Tampa Police saw no reason to issue a citation to a cute cheerleader that any action was taken. Maybe a cute young doctor (she was 27) receives the same privilege. Maybe these are the “new laws” to make the city more livable. I should find out what they are, in case they may affect me too.

On the news, we tear up at the image of people who abuse and kill animals, yet we seem to not care if a man is killed on a bicycle. Animal abusers are almost always cited and prosecuted. Thank you Michael Vick.

Abuse a child and the penalties get far more severe. You get jail time and even worse, the prisoners in jail make it a point to abuse you. However, kill a man on a bicycle and you get to go home, cry, and resume life as normal. You don’t even pay a nickel.

We have state laws to protect “pregnant pigs” in addition to those odd little “yield to pedestrians in cross walk” laws, but I guess if you actually kill the pedestrian, that’s not a very big deal.

Furthermore, why is it when you read the comment section after the online version of the story of my father’s death that some people reply with joy about how many cyclists they have hit, or tried to? Are we some sort of wild game to be hunted? Are we some sort of new southern sport like lawnmower racing? See how many Lance Armstrong wannabes you kill on your commute?

My wife and I moved five weeks ago. We moved from Tampa to an area about 45 minutes away called “ Spring Lake ” near Dade City and Brooksville. We moved because we enjoy riding our bicycles for fun, exercise, and to be with our daughter. We found that riding in the city was getting to be far too dangerous. And Pam, contrary to your promise, Tampa is far LESS livable than before, but I will give you credit for finally paving Euclid after eight years (even without a bike lane).

Did you know that for a while, it was faster for my daughter to ride her bike from our house to school by almost 10 minutes, however, for safety reasons we chose to drive her. I also discovered that it took about the same amount of time to ride a bike from Seminole Heights to Hyde Park as it was to drive. Traffic in the city is horrible. The city says they don’t have money or the road width to make improvements. That part I almost understand, however the cost of bike lanes has not deterred St. Petersburg from installing bike lanes. They have found the cost to be minimal in comparison to adding another vehicle lane. I guess Tampa will not be happy until Dale Mabry is eight lanes wide and we can take the elevated “Swann Expressway” to get to Starbucks and park in the eight-level SOHO parking deck.

Now my wife and I live in a community where there are bike lanes, and although there are the occasional angry drivers, they appear to be in the minority. When riding down a country road any driver who fumes that we are “slowing them down” needs only to change lanes. Failure to do so makes them look far sillier than any spandex I could ever put on my body. I am glad to no longer live in Tampa . The city I grew up in has become a place that is far too disgusting to live in, for many reasons now.


Tim B said...

Well said Ed. This tragic incident cries out for Justice, as do many others. Justice may be that this was indeed an "accident", but there is no possible way the City of Tampa Police could have have completed their investigation in less than 24 hours.

Jennifer Hollowell said...

Investigation? Did they bother to find out if she was on her cell phone or, god forbid, texting? How do you not see a bike that's right in front of you?

Ed, my heart goes out to you and your family. My deepest condolences for your loss.