by Sydney Rhodes
On Thursday, Jan. 9 around 11:13 a.m. a jogger was struck by a Pinch A Penny pool truck on Bayshore Boulevard near the intersection of W. Julia Avenue. The jogger later died from the injury.
According to the Tampa Police Department (TPD), the driver of the Pinch A Penny truck was later identified as a 31-year-old male named Benjamin Ehas, who drew a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of 0.234. Tampa Police said Ehas veered off of Bayshore Boulevard and struck the 70-year-old male, Geoge Gage III.
Christopher Martinez, University of Tampa senior history major and ROTC cadet, said he was driving northbound on Bayshore Boulevard, behind the Pinch A Penny truck. Martinez said he was on his way to UT for a winter session course, when he noticed Ehas was driving erratically.
“I live right by the airforce base, so I take bayshore to get to campus,” said Martinez. “I saw this white Pinch A Penny truck swerving and thought to myself ‘that guy is going to kill somebody.’ The truck then took off going about 60 mph and I lost sight of him about 10 seconds later.”
Martinez said he continued driving until he saw cars stopped and the truck crashed into the bayshore wall and up onto the sidewalk.
“I parked my car, jumped out and ran to the truck,” said Martinez. “There was chlorine everywhere and no one was really helping [the driver]. I did some things I’ve learned through ROTC. I tried to keep him awake and talk to me, cleaned him up a little bit.”
Martinez said after about two or three minutes of helping the driver, someone yelled, “Oh my god, there’s a body in the water.” Martinez said he and another man lowered themselves into the bay to help a man lying face down in the water, Gage.
“We kept him above the water and began performing CPR, but there’s only so much you can do in the water,” said Martinez. “We did what we could until the fire department showed up.”
Martinez said he helped the fire department lift the man out of the water. Gage was then taken to Tampa General Hospital where he later died due to severe injury.
“I don’t see myself as a hero,” said Martinez. “I expect nothing less of myself to help another human and I expect nothing less from the other cadets in the ROTC program. I just think it’s important to get the message out to be responsible and never drive under the influence.”
After many past accidents on Bayshore Boulevard, reduced speed limits and beacons with flashing lights were mounted on Bayshore in October of 2018.
The City of Tampa introduced these safety measures following the death of Jessica Raubenolt and her 21-month-old daughter, Lillia Raubenolt. Jessica was pushing Lillia in a stroller when the pair was struck by two teenagers racing on Bayshore Boulevard.
“Over the course of a couple projects on Bayshore, we added flashing beacons at crosswalks, we reduced the lane width, reduced the speed limit, and we added some electronic speed feedback signs,” said Brandon Campbell, senior project manager with the Transportation and Storm Water Services Department – the City of Tampa.
Seven Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacon (RRFB) signs were introduced in October of 2018 and the speed limit was reduced from 45 mph to 35 mph in hopes of preventing further accidents.
“There’s not necessarily a specific action item planned as a result of this one particular crash,” said Campbell. “We’re certainly going to continue to monitor Bayshore, as we do with all of our facilities.”
Although the City of Tampa doesn’t have any current plans for Bayshore Boulevard, Campbell said they have considered potential Bayshore intersection improvements, including the intersections of S. Rome Avenue and W. Euclid Avenue. The City of Tampa also has a list of over 100 locations throughout the city where RRFBs are a likely enhancement within the next few years, according to Campbell.
TPD has also stated that they will continue to monitor Bayshore Boulevard.
“We will continue to have many officers drive up and down Bayshore throughout the day and night to help monitor the area,” said Eddy Durkim, public information officer of TPD. “We try to put out messaging as well to try and make sure people don’t drive under the influence.”
Julia Lockridge, UT senior cybersecurity major, said she runs on Bayshore Boulevard almost every morning.
“It makes me nervous to be on Bayshore,” said Lockridge. “Knowing that just because I’m on the sidewalk does not make me safe, is concerning. I try to be aware of my surroundings constantly when I’m in the area.”
Lockridge also said she thinks the area should be patrolled more and the city should consider placing bollards or barriers along the sidewalks to prevent cars from approaching them.
“It is hard to prevent the tragedy of instances involving drunk drivers,” said Lockridge. “No amount of lower speed limits and such can stop someone incoherent. This is why I think the bollards could be a good idea.”
With charges of DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide, Ehas is currently being held without bond. Both Durkim and Campbell recommend pedestrians, bikers and drivers stay alert.
“No matter where you are, whether you’re a pedestrian, a bicyclist or in a car, everyone has to look out for each other to keep each other safe,” said Durkim.
Campbell said one of the things the City of Tampa wants to make sure people know is that everyone still needs to be a defensive pedestrian and driver.
“With all crosswalks and RRFBs, driver’s are required by state law to stop for pedestrians, but we still encourage people to be aware and, if possible, make eye contact between the driver and the pedestrian,” said Campbell.
Sydney Rhodes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org