This map shows locations of five crashes that occurred in Pinellas Park starting the night of April 6 as well as the times of each incident, as reported to the Pinellas Park Police Department. Also represented is the number of motorcycles and vehicles, including a police cruiser and one pedestrian, that were involved in the crashes.
PINELLAS PARK – In a twelve-hour period, starting at 8:50 p.m. April 6, eight motorcycles, four cars, one pickup truck, a police cruiser and a teenage pedestrian were involved in five different crashes on Pinellas Park roadways.
“It’s just been brutal for us. It was a pretty bad night overall as far as crashes go,” Pinellas Park Police Department Sgt. Tracey Schofield said the following morning.
Schofield said he couldn’t remember any time in his 29 years with the department that so many motorcyclists crashed within about an hour. Maybe the high frequency was more common in larger cities, he admitted.
“But for us, in Pinellas Park? I guess it was just the perfect storm last night,” he said.
The 49th Street crash
The crashes started on 49th Street, north of the Quaker Steak and Lube. Wednesday night is Bike Night at the restaurant, usually featuring local bands playing on the outside stage. About a thousand bikes came out April 6, after the previous week’s festivities were rained out, said restaurant owner Bill Church.
Just before 9 p.m., three motorcyclists left the restaurant, reportedly speeding and at least one popping wheelies as they headed north on 49th Street, said department spokesman Lt. Paul Andrews.
Ahead of them, 17-year-old Larhonda Robinson of Pinellas Park was making a U-turn in her beige 2001 Lincoln. She pulled in front of the motorcycles as they sped toward her.
“Trying to judge a motorcycle coming at you at 80 to 110 miles per hour is hard, especially for a 17-year-old driver,” Schofield commented.
The first of the motorcyclists, Pablo Quintana, 20, of Tarpon Springs, crashed into the back of Robinson’s car in the 12100 block of 49th Street. He flew from his motorcycle seat and landed about 250 feet down the road, Andrews said. His black Honda motorcycle ended up wrapped around a sign on the side of the road.
The two motorcyclists behind him – Sven Desouza, 36, of Clearwater and Mikhail Lochan, 19, of Hudson – skid their motorcycles to their sides to avoid the crash. Lochan was ejected from his silver 2004 Kawasaki. Desouza managed to stay on his 2008 red Ducati motorcycle.
Both ended up about 250 feet from the original point of the crash. The back end of Robinson’s car was completely crushed in, Andrews said.
The Pinellas Park Fire Department received the call at 8:52 p.m. Responding police officers blocked off 49th Street as they investigated. All four people involved were taken to local hospitals. Robinson suffered minor injuries and was treated and released from All Children’s Hospital that night. Desouza also was treated and released April 6.
Quintana and Lochan were kept overnight in the hospital. Northbound 49th Street was closed until 11 p.m. Police are still investigating the crash before filing charges. Schofield said the department believes alcohol played a factor in the crash.
“The problem isn’t Quaker Steak and Lube. The problem is when they leave,” he said.
In general, it’s difficult to catch motorcyclists who are violating the law, by speeding, driving recklessly or not having the proper motorcycle endorsements attached to their licenses. As a department policy, officers aren’t allowed to chase motorcyclists at high rates of speed.
“They run from us all the time,” Schofield said. “It’s very difficult to enforce it the way we need to.”
On a more personal level, Schofield said letting a speeding motorcycle go weighed less heavily on his conscience than trying to run the violator down, at the potential cost of an innocent life at the next intersection.
Church said Quaker Steak and Lube frequently warns its clients over the loudspeaker about the dangers of recklessly driving motorcycles.
“We make announcements out there: ‘Don’t leave here driving too fast; don’t be doing stupid things; don’t lay down rubber; don’t do wheelies. Be safe,” Church said. “The problem is they don’t seem to listen.”
Two crashes on the highway
The vehicle collisions on U.S. 19 later that night, however, were unrelated to high speed driving. A piece of metal on the overpass of 126th Avenue started a cascade of crashes involving five more motorcycles and two cars.
At around 9:40 p.m., a car ran over a piece of metal lying on the road, flattening its tire. The metal then hit a motorcycle, disabling it.
As a car behind the motorcycle slowed down, another motorcyclist – one traveling in a group of four – wasn’t able to stop in time. He crashed into the vehicle in front of him.
With the Pinellas Park police still involved in the 49th Street crash, the Florida Highway Patrol fielded the newest crash, which was ruled to be minor. No injuries were reported.
However, the crash blocked and slowed traffic on U.S. 19. to a crawl. In the left lane of the highway, Pedro Perez, 50, of Palm Harbor slowed his motorcycle as he passed the crash scene, less than 30 minutes old. Then he hit the gas without looking in front of him and ran into the back of another motorcycle, Andrews said.
Perez fell off his bike and rolled down the street. A third motorcycle driving behind him ran over his chest.
Perez was airlifted to a hospital in a Bayflight helicopter. He was reported still in critical condition April 7. Paramedics treated the motorcyclist who ran over Perez for minor injuries at the scene. Charges are pending against Perez, Schofield said.
In contrast to the earlier crash, the motorcycles involved in second group of crashes were cruiser-type motorcycles, operated by older drivers, Andrews said.
Usually, motorcycle-related crashes involve younger riders on faster bikes, who “don’t really have as much experience in driving, unfortunately,” Church said.
Throughout the eight years since the Quaker Steak and Lube instituted Bike Nights, bikers coming from the restaurant have gotten into a handful of accidents, Church said.
“Two in one night has never happened. I think it was just a bad stroke of coincidence,” he said. “It’s unfortunate.”
Pedestrian hit on Park Boulevard
An hour after the second crash on U.S. 19, Pinellas Park Police Sgt. William Lowe was on his way home when he saw a teenager standing in the median of Park Boulevard, just east of Belcher Road, with a group of his peers. At around 11:06 p.m., Raymond Whipple, 18, ran into Park Boulevard, right in front of a 2000 Honda four-door car.
Whipple bounced off the car and landed by the curb, Andrews said. He tried to get up and leave before Lowe stopped him to make sure he was all right.
Whipple was treated for minor injuries and released from the hospital. He will be issued a pedestrian violation, the department reported.
Crash on Bryan Dairy
A security officer at Raytheon heading home after a overnight shift the following morning pulled his pickup truck out in front of a marked Pinellas Park police cruiser at around 7 a.m.
Tomas Noguera, 29, of St. Petersburg was making a left turn from the Raytheon parking lot, at 8300 Bryan Dairy Road, in front of Officer Alexandro Aguilar, who was also driving home from work, headed westbound on the road. Without any time to avoid the collision, Aguilar hit the pickup on its left front end at full speed, around 40 to 45 miles per hour, Schofield said. The collision caused both vehicles to spin around and hit each other again.
Noguera, who wasn’t wearing his seat belt, was ejected from the truck and suffered serious injuries. A helicopter transported him to a local hospital.
Aguilar suffered minor injuries and was released from the hospital later that morning. The 2005 Ford Crown Victoria police cruiser was totaled, which will cost the city about $20,000.
Though Noguera was still in the hospital the evening of April 7, he is expected to survive, Schofield said. Charges will be filed against him.
Aside from the minor injuries suffered by one of their own, Pinellas Park police had reason to be thankful that array of crashes didn’t end more tragically than they did.
“In our world, as busy as it was, it was a good night, because nobody died at least,” Schofield said.