POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd hopes a slightly damaged white van with a broken headlight will be the key to finding a driver who hit a bicyclist and drove away.
“Every time we have one of these, it shocks my soul that someone can run over and kill or leave for dead someone on the side of the road and not stop to help,” Sheriff Judd said.
According to the sheriff’s office, Antonio Adam Smiley, 36, was riding his bicycle on 1st Street NW near Stroud Road in the Kathleen area of Lakeland Sunday evening just after 6 p.m.
A witness drove around him and then saw an older model white E350 van hit Smiley and keep driving.
Smiley was talking to first responders on scene and his injuries did not appear to be life-threatening, according to Judd.
“We convinced him to go to the hospital anyway to get checked out. While he was in the hospital being checked out, obviously he had some severe internal injuries and he passed,” he said.
Meanwhile, the sheriff says, detectives are searching for the van with a front headlight that does not work and damage to the front passenger side.
It’s another reminder that, usually, it’s the act of fleeing that makes crashes like this criminal.
“At the end of the day, so what if you were driving on a suspended license? That’s not a big deal. Leaving the scene of a crash with injury or death is very serious,” said Sheriff Judd.
“I cried because it’s like salt to a wound. I know what this family feels like,” said Viviana Irizarry.
Irizarry’s nephew, Einlazer Gore, 19, died after being hit on 1st Street NW near Dove Meadow Trail in early October.
That crash site is a mile away from where Smiley was hit on Sunday.
Gore, who had recently graduated from Kathleen High School and wanted to get his commercial driver license, was walking on the side of the road just before 4 a.m.
The driver who hit him remained on scene.
Gore’s family has been petitioning for safety improvements in that area since his death.
“There’s no pedestrian area. There’s no bicycle lanes. There’s hardly anything between the grass and the fog line,” said Irizarry. “You need to have lights, better lighting. You need to have signs and you need to have law enforcement. I’m asking for help from the Polk County Sheriff’s Office. Please do something.”
Sheriff Grady Judd said, in a rural county the size of Rhode Island, making those kinds of safety improvements is not feasible.
“There’s just no way to afford that kind of infrastructure,” he said.
The sheriff recommends wearing bright-colored clothing while walking and using bicycles with headlights.
Still, Irizarry wants more.
“We don’t want this to happen to anybody else and unfortunately it’s too late. It’s already happened to somebody else,” she said.