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Jogger hit by cycle, killed

Police say the motorcycle was traveling more than 80 mph in a 40 mph zone on Bayshore.

By SHANNON COLAVECCHIO-VAN SICKLER
Published February 4, 2004

[Photo by Matt May]
Tampa police officers investigate the scene where a motorcyclist hit a jogger in the southbound lanes of Bayshore Boulevard between El Prado Boulevard and Waverly Avenue.
photoMelissa McKenzie, 39, was one of hundreds who walk, jog and bike on Bayshore.

Related Story:
Odd mix of traffic stretches safe limits

Jogger killed
Police say a motorcyclist speeding south on Bayshore Boulevard killed a jogger who was trying to cross at the intersection of El Prado Boulevard. The motorcycle came to rest about a block away at Waverly Avenue.



TAMPA - Tuesday morning started like so many others in the McKenzie household. Melissa woke up before her son, Josh, and her husband, Billy.

It was Melissa's day off, the one day of the week when she had time to run 9 miles. Before 6 a.m., she nudged her husband and gave him a light kiss.

"I love you," she said. "I'm going out for my run. I'll see you later."

Less than half an hour later, she was dead.

Police say McKenzie, 39, died when a motorcyclist going about 80 mph struck her as she jogged east from El Prado Boulevard onto Bayshore Boulevard in South Tampa.

She died before the sun came up on the heavily traveled, scenic route where speeders are a longstanding frustration to residents and police.

Bayshore Boulevard, with its broad sidewalks, balustrades and palm trees, attracts a daily jostling horde of runners, strollers, bikers and skaters, to the water's edge south of downtown. To get there, though, they have to cross traffic.

McKenzie had nearly reached the grassy median when a motorcycle driven by William R. Napier of Brandon slammed into her petite frame, police said.

Tampa police spokesman Joe Durkin said McKenzie died on impact, with several joggers and commuters bearing witness.

Billy McKenzie, 44, got to the accident scene a few minutes after 9 a.m.

When he saw the yellow tape, and the markers showing where the motorcycle hit his wife of 16 years, he fell to the ground and wailed.

Police officers tried to console him, but it was no use. His soulmate was gone.

* * *

Sgt. Pete Pomponio said Napier was driving his yellow Suzuki 1000 at least 80 mph when the crash occurred at 6:15 a.m. The speed limit along that stretch of Bayshore is 40 mph.

No charges have been filed against Napier, a 35-year-old U.S. Navy petty officer who works for U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base.

Napier was taken to Tampa General Hospital after the crash. By late Tuesday, the married father of two was reported to be in stable condition.

His daughter, Nazy, 19, said her father had chest injuries but will recover.

"We're really sorry for the woman's family," she said. "I send my prayers to them."

Police spokesman Durkin said it could be at least a few days before authorities decide whether to press charges.

For now, police know this much: The motorcycle hit McKenzie with such force that her mangled body landed in the median along Bayshore under a tree. Pomponio said investigators found a portable radio that McKenzie might have been listening to.

The motorcycle crashed about 300 yards to the south, crushing a chain-link fence that surrounds the construction site.

Debris from the motorcycle lay scattered throughout the crash scene. Four hours after the accident, the two southbound lanes of Bayshore between El Prado and Waverly Avenue remained closed as investigators continued collecting evidence, including Napier's helmet and jacket.

State records show Napier has been cited for speeding and poor driving. In 1997, he was found guilty of improper passing in Monroe County. In 1985 in Brevard County, and two years ago in Polk County, he was cited for going more than 20 mph above the speed limit, but adjudication was withheld in both those cases, which means there was no formal finding of guilt.

Victor Pellegrino, a veteran defense lawyer, said prosecutors likely will weigh several factors before deciding whether to file charges, including whether the driver was weaving or passing dangerously.

McKenzie's mother, Terri Smith, wasn't ready to think about whether Napier should be punished.

"I don't care about all that," said Smith, 62. "I just want my daughter."

Smith buried a son nearly two years ago, and thought that was the worst grief she had ever known.

"Just two years ago, we lost my Francisco," Smith said, tears streaming down her face.

"And now Melissa. Why?"

* * *

At heart, Melissa was homebody with a strong maternal instinct.

A graduate of Tampa Catholic High School, she later later attended St. Petersburg Junior College.

She juggled her weekend bike rides, her daily jogs and her job as a party decorator and planner for Rent All of Tampa,

But as much as McKenzie loved her work, her priority was life at her home on W Vasconia Street near Virginia Park. That's where she loved to spend time with her 14-year-old son Josh, her husband Billy and her four dogs.

"Of all the kids, she was always the one helping me," her mother said.

"She washed dishes, changed diapers. And whenever there was some problems between the brothers and sisters, she was the one to say "Forget about it. Life is too short.' "

At that, Terri Smith's face crumbled in a sea of tears.

* * *

Before she left for her run Tuesday morning, McKenzie set out breakfast for Billy and Josh, a freshman at Plant High.

Billy, who owns a pool-cleaning business, was buying chlorine when his cell phone rang a couple hours later. It was his sister-in-law, calling to say she heard a jogger got hit on Bayshore. "Where is Melissa?" she asked.

Billy drove along Platt Avenue, then to Davis Islands, looking for his wife along her regular route.

"I didn't see anything, and I was so happy because I didn't see any police cars," he cried. "Then the police called and told me to come to Bayshore and El Prado."

Tuesday afternoon, he sat in the living room with Josh and looked at the family picture they took with Melissa several years ago.

Josh said nothing, just stared at the television playing an episode of Family Feud and wrapped himself in a blanket. When his father cried, Josh covered his face with a pillow to hide his own tears.

Billy thought back to when he met Melissa on a blind date all those years ago. They had Chinese food and went dancing. He thought then that he would grow old with her.

"She just had a chemistry about her," he recalled. "It was meant to be, you know? I thought we'd be together forever."

Sixteen years after they married, the McKenzie romance remained strong.

On Monday, she left work early to spend extra time with her husband and son. They had Chinese food, just like on their first date, and watched television.

Then Tuesday morning, she gave her husband that final kiss.

"I miss her already," he sobbed. "She was everything to me. And I'll never hug her again."

- Staff writer Graham Brink and staff researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this report. Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at 226-3373 or svansickler@sptimes.com

[Last modified February 4, 2004, 07:11:39]


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