Deadline Miami

Motorist charged with hit-and-run after two bicyclists are hit in Key Biscayne, killing one

Miami-Dade Traffic Homocide Detective Sgt. Dave Greenwell looks over the scene where two bicyclists were hit by a 2014 VW Jetta on the eastbound Rickenbacker Causeway east of the Bear Cut bridge, Wednesday, Jan 21., 2015.
Miami-Dade Traffic Homocide Detective Sgt. Dave Greenwell looks over the scene where two bicyclists were hit by a 2014 VW Jetta on the eastbound Rickenbacker Causeway east of the Bear Cut bridge, Wednesday, Jan 21., 2015. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

A college student from Key Biscayne was arrested on drunk-driving and manslaughter charges after police say he struck two cyclists on Crandon Boulevard early Wednesday, killing one and seriously injuring the other before driving off.

Alejandro Alvarez, 21, a University of Maryland student who said he had been out all night at a Miami Beach club, turned himself in after having second thoughts about fleeing, Miami-Dade police said in an arrest affidavit released late Wednesday. Alvarez returned to the site of the collision some 20 minutes later and, while crying “hysterically,” admitted he had hit the cyclists, police said.

Cyclist Walter Reyes, 50, CFO at the South Florida real-estate firm Keyes Company, was pronounced dead at the site of the collision, which occurred at 5:22 a.m. in the southbound portion of the road about half a mile past the Crandon Park Marina. His cycling companion, Coral Gables attorney Henry Hernandez, was taken to Mercy Hospital in serious condition.

Police say Reyes and Hernandez were riding in the marked bike lane where the road curves towards the village of Key Biscayne when Alvarez passed other vehicles, drove into the bike lane and hit both cyclists. Alvarez, who said he was looking at his iPhone to change a song when he swerved into the cyclists, told police he was “scared” and drove home to Harbor Drive in Key Biscayne.

The windshield of the motorist’s gray 2014 Volkswagen Jetta bore two large indentations, suggesting the cyclists were hit hard enough to be sent flying. The grass off to the right of the showed tire marks, indicating the motorist drove off the pavement before taking off, leaving the severely injured cyclists prone on the road.

Both men’s bikes were equipped with bright front and rear lights, as required by law when riding after dark, photos of the bikes show. The rear red light on Reyes’ Cannondale bike was still flashing hours later as it lay in the road while police investigated.

Reyes’ is the third hit-and-run death of a cyclist on the road to Key Biscayne — the most popular cycling route in Miami-Dade County — in five years, and seems certain to prompt renewed calls for long-promised, but only partly implemented, safety improvements along Crandon and the Rickenbacker Causeway.

“It’s just tragic,” said Miami architect Bernard Zyscovich, who has been pushing county officials to speed up improvements for cyclists and pedestrians along the causeway since the 2012 hit-and-run death of triathlete and businessman Aaron Cohen on the William Powell Bridge. “It’s so frustrating. It’s bordering now on issues of culpability. If we spend some money, we could solve it right away. That’s the call to action we need to make.”

Cohen’s death, and a light sentence of less than two years given to the motorist who killed him, prompted an outcry from cyclists and a successful campaign to make penalties mandatory for motorists who leave the scene of an accident. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez also pledged to make extensive safety improvements to the roadway, though advocates say they have been slow to be implemented and don’t do enough to protect cyclists and pedestrians.

In 2010, cyclist Christophe LeCanne was struck from behind and killed by a drunken driver while riding in the bike lane on Bear Cut Bridge, which connects Virginia Key and Key Biscayne.

The stretch of Crandon along which Reyes and Hernandez were struck has long been scheduled for a makeover that would widen the bike lanes and narrow the two automobile lanes to slow speeding cars and provide greater separation from motorized traffic for cyclists. Some advocates have also called for a physical barrier, like a curb or low wall, to protect cyclists on the road.

But the work was delayed by the emergency reconstruction of the Bear Cut Bridge last year, and is now supposed to happen this coming spring, according to county public works officials.

Gimenez issued a statement after Wednesday’s fatal collision expressing condolences to Reyes’ family and pledging to complete safety improvements along the causeway.

“I want to reiterate that the safety of all of our pedestrians, bicyclists and our traveling public is of the utmost importance and is a top transportation priority,” Gimenez said in his statement.

Reyes had been training for next month’s Dolphins Cycling Challenge, a two-day event that raises money for the University of Miami’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. He was leader of Keyes’ team for the event.

“Our hearts are with Walter Reyes' family & the entire @ridedcc community. We are deeply saddened, but forever grateful for his support. #RIP,” the cancer center tweeted.

Police charged Alvarez with leaving the scene of a crash involving a death and a serious injury, DUI manslaughter and DUI serious injury to another.

In the arrest affidavit, police say Alvarez smelled strongly of alcohol, was slurring his speech, had blood-shot eyes and was “hysterically crying” when he returned to the scene of the collision. There he approached a Key Biscayne officer, saying, “It was me, I was the one that was involved in the accident.”

But Alvarez denied he was drinking and, after failing a roadside sobriety test, refused to consent to a blood sample. Paramedics drew several blood samples after obtaining a warrant. After he was taken to the homicide bureau, police say, Alvarez said he had been out at a Beach club until 4:30 a.m.

After hitting the cyclists and going home, Alvarez told police, he tried smashing the Jetta’s rear window with a golf club to “fake a robbery,” but thought better of it and called 911. The operator told him to return to the scene and turn himself in.

All three fatalities on the road to Key Biscayne, safety advocates note, have been eerily similar — occurring early in the morning, when many serious cyclists ride to the key, but also when some people are driving back home to the island after a night of partying. In all three cases, police said the cyclists were riding legally and safely in designated, marked bike lanes when they were struck from behind.

In February 2012, Key Biscayne resident Michele Traverso fled home after striking Cohen and a fellow cyclist, who suffered a broken leg. Although police suspect he had been drinking, they could not prove he was impaired because he didn’t turn himself in until the next day.

The Aaron Cohen Act, approved by the Florida Legislature last year, imposed a mandatory-minimum prison sentence of four years for drivers convicted of leaving the scene of a fatal crash. It also boosted the mandatory-minimum prison sentence from two years to four years for a DUI driver who leaves a fatal crash scene.

Both could apply to Alvarez in Wednesday’s collision.

In an odd twist, a Miami-Dade judge in December sent Traverso to prison for 28 more months after his probation officer caught him on the beach outside his Key Biscayne condo, where he was serving house arrest.

In the LeCanne case in January 2010, aspiring pop singer Carlos Bertonatti dragged the man’s crumpled bike for two miles through Key Biscayne before police caught up with him. Bertonatti, who was drunk after a night of partying at Club Space in downtown Miami, was sentenced in 2013 to 12 years in prison.

Related stories from Miami Herald