Rescue crews had little to go on when they arrived at a crash scene on the Julia Tuttle Causeway late Monday night: A driver saying she might have hit a bicyclist when she swerved to avoid a car, a backpack with a torn strap, one bicycle glove and word from a couple on a fishing dinghy that they had heard a splash.
With the few clues they had, rescue divers made their way into Biscayne Bay and a Fire Rescue boat headed toward the bridge to begin a search for what was believed to be a missing cyclist.
After about two hours of searching, divers using flashlights and “search patterns” stumbled upon a bicycle. Shortly after, they plucked a 25-year old man from the water.
The victim, who has been identified but whose name was not released because relatives have not been notified, plummeted 50 feet off the bridge and into the water below.
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“It’s not very common to get a call like this,” said Miami Fire Rescue Capt. Ignatius Carroll. “For a cyclist to be hit and actually thrown in the water — that doesn’t happen all the time.”
It was about 11 p.m. Monday night when Eltrisa L. McDaniel was heading east on the causeway with Kurtrese Leone Harris in the car, said Florida Highway Patrol spokesman Jose Sanchez. Sanchez said McDaniel said another car cut her off.
“The driver states that she swerved to avoid another vehicle, struck the wall and then struck the bicyclist,’’ Sanchez said Tuesday. “The impact tossed the bike and the rider over the concrete rail and he fell into Biscayne Bay.’’
The crash drew 10 emergency and police vehicles, half a dozen boats and a helicopter, lighting up the bay and backing traffic up on the causeway, said Scott Linnen, who witnessed the scene from his apartment balcony at the Charter Club, which overlooks the bay just south of the causeway entrance.
"I’m out on the balcony, and I turn just as it happened — I heard some noise, some skidding," Linnen said. "I didn’t know someone went off the bridge. I just saw some cars scattered."
Linnen called 911, and said the first emergency vehicle arrived what seemed to be about 25 minutes later. Carroll said the first crew arrived about 9 minutes after the initial call — which actually reported an accident on the MacArthur Causeway.
Linnen said he has seen accidents before at this site, where cars entering the causeway must accelerate quickly to merge into speeding traffic, just as the road rises into a high bridge over the bay.
Carroll said when crews arrived details were sketchy.
“We had a driver who was obviously traumatized, and a passenger who didn’t see anything because she was taking a nap,” he said.
It was the couple on the dinghy who gave rescuers the biggest clue.
“They helped us get a better sense of where he could be,” Carroll said.
Alcohol was not a factor in the accident, according to the FHP. Sanchez said while biking is allowed on the causeway, “It’s not safe.”
Sanchez said charges are pending against the driver, and that the cause of death, whether from drowning or from being struck by the car, had not yet been determined.
He said finding the man’s family has also been a challenge.
“His phone went with him, which makes it even more of a challenge,” he said.