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Driver charged in crash that killed bicyclist in St. Petersburg

The Tampa Bay Times: Driver charged in crash that killed bicyclist in St. Petersburg bike lane

By Jamal Thalji and Dan Sullivan, Times Staff Writers

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


ST. PETERSBURG — Police have arrested a St. Petersburg man on multiple criminal charges in connection with a crash that killed a bicyclist Saturday afternoon as she pedaled in a bike lane.

Matthew E. Cook, 27, was arrested Tuesday on charges of DUI manslaughter, vehicular homicide and DUI involving serious injury.

Cook was driving with a cocktail of drugs in his system — including cocaine, methadone, oxycodone, marijuana and benzodiazepines — when he struck Kris Ann Jones, 40, police said. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

The crash occurred while Cook had his 3-year-old daughter in the car with him, police said. The girl, who was not properly strapped into her car seat, suffered burns, scrapes and bruises, police said.

Because of this, police also added a charge of child abuse.

In addition, police say Cook was going 80 mph in a 40-mph zone and may have been racing another car when he turned into the bike lane in which Jones was riding. After hitting Jones, Cook crashed his 1995 Honda Civic into a sport utility vehicle.

"I'd say he made a number of bad choices on this particular day," said St. Petersburg police spokesman Mike Puetz.

Cook was being held Tuesday night at the Pinellas County Jail without bail. His family could not be reached for comment. Neither could Jones' family members.

Cook was arrested Tuesday afternoon as his family escorted him from Bayfront Medical Center, where he had undergone surgery for a broken femur, police said. Officers were surprised to learn he was leaving the hospital so early, but ensured they were there to take him into custody, Puetz said.

The crash occurred about 5 p.m. Saturday as Jones was riding east in the bike lane in the 5200 block of First Avenue S.

The speeding Cook pulled behind an SUV, then tried to use the bike lane to pass it, police said. He didn't see Jones on her bike until it was too late and slammed on the brakes just before striking her, police said.

Jones was thrown onto the windshield and the roof of the Honda, police said, but was flung to the street when the car skidded into the back of the other, parked SUV, pushing it into a tree.

While talking to officers, Cook admitted to "some drug use," Puetz said. Cook denied he was racing, but police believe he was.

"We've got enough information to believe both these cars were traveling on First Avenue S at a high rate of speed, which suggests racing," Puetz said. "He (Cook) denies it, but we have witnesses who have refuted that."

Police haven't located the other vehicle, which they described as a small, faded-white car that was possibly foreign-made. Puetz said investigators need to do more work before deciding whether the other driver could be charged.

Cook has a history of arrests and driving offenses. He pleaded no contest and was sentenced to probation in 2010 for charges of aggravated assault with a motor vehicle and throwing a deadly missile into an occupied vehicle, according to court records.

His driver's license was suspended in 2007 after he pleaded no contest to a disorderly conduct charge. His license was later reinstated.

He also has been cited for avoiding a traffic control device, improper backing and seat belt violations, records show.

Times news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.