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Family of Robert Niedbalec mourns loss in fatal bike accident

6:13 PM, Feb 14, 2011   |    comments
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Tampa, Florida - A small white sign by the side of the busy road marks Tampa Bay's latest bicycle death. It reads, "Motorists: Stop killing bicyclists."

On Sunday afternoon, Robert Niedbalec was riding in the bike lane on Fletcher Avenue, when investigators say a speeding black Ford hit him. Some witnesses say the Ford may have been racing with another car.

Bicycle activists like Alan Snel are filled with sorrow and anger. "This was a complete, tragic and needless death," says Snel, who often rides the very same stretch of road.

Too distraught to appear on camera, Niedbalec's wife Kathryn describes him as a loving father to their 21-year-old daughter Katie, and a hard-working veterinarian with a soft-heart for rescues like their pug Oreo. "No one would take him," says Kathryn of the dog, which has a malformed lip.

Yet Niedbalec was tough as nails on the Judo mat. He was a black belt competitor and instructor. He road his bike dozens of miles a week to improve his endurance.

Niedbalec was originally from Poland and he escaped the then communist country in the 1980's. Kathryn says Robert then worked hard over the next decade to learn English, become a veterinarian and a U.S. citizen.

When her husband didn't come home on Sunday, Kathryn drove along his usual route and when she saw all the flashing lights on Fletcher, her heart sank.

"Crushing, shocking, infuriating," she says of the moment she learned Robert had died. "He's a wonderful friend and he'll be so missed by everyone."

Investigators spoke with a lot of people on Sunday, but they're still looking for more witnesses. If you saw the black Ford and the white Honda on Fletcher, you are urged to call the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office at 813-247-8200.

Investigators say 20-year-old Cristina Perenzuela was driving the Ford and 34-year-old Armando Perez was in the Honda. So far, no charges have been brought against either driver.

However, just like Niedbalec's memory, his family and friends intend to keep the issue of bike safety alive. 

Kathryn Bursch, 10 News

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