Using forensics to narrow down the vehicle type and its color, then cross-matching that with a partial license plate number from a witness, Coral Gables police determined that the car that killed a bicyclist Thursday morning in what they are calling a hit-and-run was a gray Nissan Altima that belongs to someone living in Westchester.
Early Friday morning a judge signed off on a warrant and Coral Gables police impounded a car with those same characteristics from a home in the 8500 block of Southwest 46th Street. But even with the car in the hands of police, it’s going to take some time to determine who hit and killed the bicyclist early Thursday morning near the corner of Bird Road and Granada Boulevard.
“We don’t have anybody in custody,” said Ed Hudak, Coral Gable’s interim chief of police. “Now we need another warrant for inside the car to get DNA. Obviously, we have a lot of work to do to put someone behind the wheel.”
Police found the car on a driveway on the side of the home. Hudak said it was visible from the street and cops got a good enough look at it to determine there was a strong possibility it was the car they were searching for. The car is damaged in a way that is consistent with what they’d expect to see from the hit-and-run, police said.
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A suspect has not been named, though Hudak said police have a person of interest and steps have been taken to make sure that person doesn’t flee. NBC 6 reported no one was home when police impounded the car, though Hudak wouldn’t confirm that. The victim, also, has not been named. Police have been able to identify him through fingerprints, but continue to search for next of kin before naming him.
Coral Gables police officer Gordon Dickson, who was driving east on Bird Road just after the accident, found the man sprawled on the east side of Bird Road near Granada Thursday morning at 3:13 a.m.
“[Dickson] turned around to provide aid but the body was deceased,” said Coral Gables Police spokeswoman Kelly Denham.
Dickson also found a backpack that is believed to belong to the man, but it didn’t contain any identification. Because of the man's age — officers believe he was probably in his late 30s — they do not believe he was a student at the University of Miami, which is nearby.
The bicyclist was not wearing fluorescent cycling clothing, and police believe the dead man was not part of the large recreational cycling community that often takes to South Florida’s streets.
“We do not believe he was out exercising,” Denham added.
At first, Dickinson didn’t realize the fatality was the result of an accident. But as he continued to survey the area he found a bike and a shoe about four blocks away on Marola Court. Officers later determined from a groove mark near the bicycle that the accident was caused by a vehicle. They also determined the driver responsible for the crash had to remove the bicycle from under the car before driving away.
“The driver must have known,” that he hit someone, Denham said. She said the bike lacked city-required lights in front and back.
Miami-Dade consistently ranks among the five worst metro areas in the nation in bike-fatality rates, and Thursday’s accident is one in a string of local bike fatalities.
Recently, penalties for drivers who leave injured pedestrians or cyclists at the scene have been toughened. The Aaron Cohen Life Protection Act, a state law named after 2012 hit-and-run victim Aaron Cohen of Miami, upgraded the offense to a second-degree felony.
Friends and family of Cohen, who was killed on the Rickenbacker Causeway, pushed for the minimum sentencing requirements after the driver who struck Cohen received a sentence of less than a year.
University of Miami School of Law Professor Markus Wagner, who was instrumental in writing the law, says still more should be done to make Floridians aware of the consequences of not helping the victim at a scene if they are involved in an accident.
March is Coral Gables biker safety month, and Denham says South Florida is a bike-friendly community that needs to educate its residents about proper attire and bike gear.
Even with Friday’s findings, Coral Gables police are asking anyone with information that could be related to the the hit-and-run to call the department at 305-442-1600.