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Cyclist was victim of hit-and-run driver in SW Miami-Dade

The Miami Herald: Cyclist was victim of hit-and-run driver in SW Miami-Dade

Fellow bicyclists will hold a ride Sunday as a memorial to Miguel Angel Rocafort and to press for action by police in catching the driver.

Police and family members urge anyone with information on the hit-and-run that killed cyclist Miguel Rocafort to call Crime Stoppers of Miami-Dade County at 305-471-TIPS (8477).

A memorial ride will depart Sunday after 10 a.m. from the parking lot of the old Signature Gardens at Southwest 122nd Avenue and 128th Street. The slow ride will travel to the intersection of Eureka Drive and Southwest 137th Avenue, where Rocafort was struck, for a moment of silence before returning to the starting point. All are welcome. For more directions and more information, go to safestreetsmiami.org and greenmobilitynetwork.org.


BY ANDRES VIGLUCCI

Almost unnoticed, Miguel Angel Rocafort was struck by an early-morning hit-and-run driver while out riding his bicycle in Southwest Miami-Dade and left, badly injured and alone, lying on a grassy swale.

Five days later, the hardworking 51-year-old father, husband and model neighbor died suddenly from complications of his injuries, only the latest victim of what critics say are Miami’s dangerous streets. The motorist who struck him has not been found.

According to Rocafort’s family, the sole witness to the March 31 hit-and-run said the driver got out of his car, looked down at the injured cyclist, then coldly got back in his car without rendering aid and took off.

“He was a great guy, always happy, always wanting to help people,’’ said Rocafort’s stepson, Andre Caballero. “He took good care of my mom, who’s just detroyed over this. It’s a great loss for us.’’

On Sunday, Rocafort’s family, cycling clubs and Safe Streets Miami — the organization founded to press for greater safety for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists after the hit-and-run death of triathlete and businessman Aaron Cohen on the Rickenbacker Causeway earlier this year — will hold a memorial and a slow ride through Kendall to press for action by authorities.

They’re also hoping the unknown motorist will step forward, or that someone will turn him in.

“We want to ask for the community’s help to find this guy,’’ Caballero said. “He left my stepfather in the street like some piece of garbage. If you hit someone, stay and be a man.”

Safe Streets organizers say that although the death of Cohen, the third cyclist to be fatally struck by a car on the popular Rickenbacker bicycle lanes in recent years, prompted demands for safety improvements on the causeway, Rocafort’s death shows the need for significant improvements across Miami-Dade County as more people walk and cycle.

Urban and suburban streets roads designed primarily to ease fast travel by cars, compounded by heedless drivers and lack of police traffic enforcement, make it perilous not just for people on foot and bicycles but also for motorists, said Safe Streets co-founder Gary Mendenhall.

“There’s a lot of pedestrian hit-and-runs, too,’’ Mendenhall said. “Even if you’re in a car, the streets are getting worse all the time. We can’t just keep looking the other way.’’

Just this week the website TransitMiami.com compiled several recent reports of pedestrians seriously injured by out-of-control cars while they were crossing streets or walking on sidewalks, including a University of Miami student struck by a runaway driver in a silver-gray Mercedes Benz E-320 while crossing South Dixie Highway near Red Road. TransitMiami writer Craig Chester called the string of incidents an unacknowledged public-safety crisis.

Miami-Dade police have said they have few leads in Rocafort’s death. The witness was focused on helping Rocafort and did not get a tag number or a good look at the motorist’s car, which he described only as an older model, dark Honda or Toyota with different shades of body panels, as if it were under repair, Caballero said.

Rocafort, a native of Puerto Rico who worked as an installer for Dish Network, was a careful and experienced rider who pedaled every Saturday morning from his home near Homestead to meet a group of longtime cycling buddies at Sugarwood Park, the starting point for rides to South Miami-Dade or Key Biscayne.

“He was one of the first people I met when I moved down from New York 16 years ago — a very nice guy, very humble,’’ said Hector Mesa, a member of the informal group, which he said was focused on safe riding. “Every Saturday morning he was the first one there, and he always had lights on everywhere.’’

The group had matching, distinctive cycling jerseys made with a scarab on the chest and bright orange trim for visibility, Mesa said. The mostly middle-aged group stopped riding with a larger pack several years ago after deciding the younger riders had gotten too competitive and reckless for their taste, he said.

“In four years we never had a crash or any accidents,’’ said Mesa, a truck driver.

But he said hostility from motorists was a constant, even though they carefully hewed to the rules of the road, where cyclists have a legal right to travel.

“It’s getting dangerous out there. People throw things at us. People see bicycles, but they don’t realize there is a human being riding the bicycle. They see us and they don’t care,” Mesa said.

Rocafort was struck at the corner of Eureka Drive and Southwest 137th Avenue sometime after 6:30 a.m. on March 31 while riding north. The eyewitness, who was on the scene just after the collision, spotted him in the grass because of the bright, blinking red light Rocafort had attached to his back, Caballero said.

Mesa visited Rocafort in Kendall Regional’s trauma center, where he was treated for multiple fractures and other injuries before being sent home. Rocafort seemed his usual cheerful self, he said. Doctors had told him he could resume riding in a few months.

“He was in good spirits even though he had a broken leg and his neck in a brace,’’ Mesa said. “He even joked, ‘Finally, I’m going to get a new bike.’”

But the night after his release, Rocafort awoke in the middle of the night complaining of leg pain before falling back asleep, Caballero said. At 6 a.m., he woke up in a confused state and was taken to Baptist Hospital in Homestead, where he died. An autopsy determined the cause of death to be a pulmonary embolism related to his injuries.

Besides Caballero, Rocafort is survived by a daugher, Kristina Rocafort of Miami, and his widow, Flor de Maria Graham.