By Tamas Mondovics
An increase of hit and run traffic crashes occurring throughout Hillsborough County causing serious injury to both pedestrians and motorists have made headlines in recent weeks raising the question of how to handle or to react to such incidents.
One of the most recent victims of a fatal hit and run traffic crash that occurred on U.S. 92 at the I-4 overpass involved 30-year-old Michael Duriel Lee of Tampa.
According to HCSO reports, Lee was riding his bicycle eastbound on the right shoulder of U.S. 92 overpass crossing over the off ramp for Interstate 4 eastbound, when he was struck by a vehicle which was also traveling east on the overpass. Lee was ejected from the bicycle, over the guardrail and came to rest in the retention area 80 feet below the overpass.
After an anonymous tip received by HCSO communications, detectives found and investigated a vehicle found behind the Ben’s Restaurant at 704 Brandon Blvd. By matching a paint chip found at the scene with a section of paint of the1999 Ford Ranger pickup truck, detectives quickly located 23-year-old Christopher Jacob Kimmel of 4011 Briarlake Dr. in Valrico.
Kimmel is now being charged with leaving the scene of a crash involving death.
The injuries of 33-year-old Diana Pena of Riverview—also a victim of a hit and run traffic crash—also made headlines, although the quick arrest of the suspect by HCSO deputies did bring a sense of justice to Pena and her family.
On July 4, at approximately 1:30 a.m., Pena was a passenger in a vehicle on Boyette Rd. in Riverview, which ran out of gas.
Deputies said that Pena got out of the vehicle and while attempting to cross the westbound lanes to reach the gas station, was struck by a vehicle.
A passerby saw her lying in the road and called 911. Pena was transported via AeroMed to Tampa General Hospital in serious condition and was later upgraded to stable condition.
Vehicle debris left at the scene was determined to be from a Toyota Corolla and prompted a search for the car and the driver, which was located 24-hours later, at 9757 Tranquility Lake Cir. in Riverview belonging to 26-year-old, Matthew Ryan Fox.
The front of the vehicle was covered with a sheet to hide the damage which was consistant with the crash. Fox was arrested and charged with Leaving the Scene of a Crash with Injury.
It is noteworthy that both incidents occurred overnight when the chances of finding an eyewitnesses to the crash are much less.
Hillsborough County Public Information Officer, Larry McKinnon, said that knowing what to do if involved in a hit and run crash can save a lot of heartache.
“The first and foremost is to notify law enforcement,” McKinnon said, adding that sometimes motorists want to chase down a suspect on their own, which is unwise, considering the possibility that the suspect may have been involved in a crime prior to the crash, or is irrational since the crash.
“The second thing one can do, if it is at all possible, is to take a photo of the cars involved, especially the license plate,” he said. “Most people now have a camera on their phone and are able to quickly provide vital information to law enforcement.”
HCSO is asking residents for their continued supports as such hit and run incidents occur throughout the county.
Residents may call the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office at 247-8200 or with any information regarding the identity and whereabouts of suspects involved with such crashes are urged to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-873-TIPS (8477) or to report anonymously online at www.crimestopperstb.com or text “CSTB plus your tip” to C-R-I-M-E-S (274637).