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'I never had a chance to say goodbye'

A candlelight service on Sunset Lane will remember a husband and father killed in January.

By JACKIE RIPLEY

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 1, 2001


LUTZ -- Every day is hard for Jeanne Swails. Tuesdays are the worst. It was on a Tuesday that her husband, Lonnie Swails, was killed as he rode his bicycle along Sunset Lane in Lutz.

That's why Swails chose this Tuesday to celebrate her husband's memory in a 6:45 p.m. candlelight service at the spot where he died.

"It's going to help him and me," Swails said. "It's going to help move us both along."

Lonnie Swails, 38, died about a mile from his Walker Road home after being hit from behind by a Toyota around 9:45 p.m. Jan. 4. A cross made by his wife and children marks the spot.

The driver, Won Lee, 47, who lives around the corner on Sunset Point Court, tried to steer clear but the right front of his car knocked Swails off the bicycle, said Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies. They said there was nothing to indicate that Lee did anything wrong.

Sunset, a key east-west route through Lutz, has no shoulders, few street lights and a 45-mph speed limit.

Deputies said Swails, on his way to the store, was wearing dark clothing and had no reflectors on his bicycle.

Swails, who owned a business with his brother replacing vehicle windows, also left behind two children, Krystien, 10, and Lonnie Jr., 5.

"I miss him a lot, but they really got ripped off," Swails said. "At least I had him for 14 years."

Swails, 35, said news of her husband's death was made worse by the fact that she and the children were in Pennsylvania visiting her family for the holidays.

"He was looking forward to us coming home," Swails said. But "I never had a chance to say goodbye."

That's one reason Swails organized the roadside service. She sent formal invitations to family and friends and posted notices at the Winn-Dixie and Family Dollar Store on U.S. 41, and at Hess Express on Livingston Road. She expects about 50 people to attend the service, where she will ask everyone to join hands and pray.

"I want to bring awareness that people need to pay attention" while they are driving, Swails said.

Sitting at her dining room table recently, as Krystien worked on her handwriting and Lonnie drew a tree showing his new puppy, Yogi, Swails described a father who loved his children and a husband who was committed to a marriage that had seen some ups and downs.

"It was to be a new year and a new start," Swails said.

The new start Swails has embarked upon is far different from the one she had envisioned. Instead of staying home with her children and "growing old with Lonnie," she works as a secretary for NCI Financial Systems in Tampa. She also spends more time in activities at Clair Mel Assembly of God, the church she and Lonnie attended when they were first married.

The memory of her loss, meanwhile, lingers. A funeral wreath hangs on the front door next to a nearly deflated silver heart-shaped balloon. In the kitchen hangs a simple piece of green construction paper with the words in block print: "Lonnie We Are Thinking Of You."

-- Jackie Ripley can be reached at (813) 226-3468 or ripley@sptimes.com.

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