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Cycling Accident Unreported By Police In St. Johns County Leaves Victim Without Recourse

Ryan Benk
Attorney Chris Burns and his client Gretchen Seth visit the intersection where she was struck by a car while riding her bike. It's the first time Seth has been to the location since the accident two weeks ago.

A Ponte Vedra Beach woman is asking for help finding an SUV driver who struck her while she was riding her bike two weeks ago.

After a five-day hospital stay, 58-year-old Gretchen Seth is home recovering from a broken leg.

Seth’s is not a simple case of hit-and-run.

Gretchen Seth walked with an aluminum walker and a large cast around her leg. She says her accident happened the weekend of the Sea & Sky Spectacular Air Show at the Beaches. She was on her bike crossing a Winn Dixie parking lot exit at Solana Road and State Road A1A.

“When she saw the opening she hit the gas, and that’s when she hit me,” Seth says. “And when she rushed over to me as I was in the road she said, ‘I’m so sorry, I didn't see you. I was looking left. I didn't see you.’”

She says a St. Johns County Sheriff’s deputy arrived shortly thereafter. Then an ambulance took her to Mayo Clinic.

As she told her her story, another cyclist whipped by on the sidewalk. Richard Webber says he passed by here shortly after Seth’s accident and saw her lying in the road.

Webber says he rides his bicycle to the ocean to swim every day, and he always sees people driving poorly along this road.

Webber says he knows many people who’ve been in cycling accidents in the area. Even Seth wasn't shocked by her crash. But she was shocked at what happened next.

“The nurses in the hospital were kind enough to call the Florida Highway Patrol and try to get a copy of the accident report, and they were told that none would be available until later in the week,” Seth says.

Seth followed up when she got out of the hospital, but the Highway Patrol told her there was never a report filed about the accident. Without one, the responsible driver can’t be held accountable for bike repairs, medical bills or lost wages.

When Seth called the sheriff’s office, they told her they had no record of an officer’s even responding to the scene.

But Seth says she was sure an officer was there. She remembers looking at the deputy’s car as she clenched her leg in pain.

Her lawyer, Chris Burns, says the sheriff’s office broke Florida law by not filing a report.

“Florida law says that any time there’s an accident involving an automobile where there’s property damage which exceeds $500 or bodily injuries, then an accident report has to be conducted,” Burns says.

When WJCT contacted the sheriff’s office a spokesman repeated what they told Seth: no record of the accident exists.

But the Florida Highway Patrol says a St. Johns Sheriff’s deputy did respond and called the state agency for backup.

Credit Florida Highway Patrol
Call records show St. Johns County Sheriff's deputies canceling a call to the Florida Highway Patrol, saying the people involved in the accident didn't require a report.

FHP records show the deputy then canceled the call, saying the people involved didn’t want a report written.

WJCT presented the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office with that timeline. Commander Chuck Mulligan said, finally, a deputy did respond but left when another call came in. Mulligan doesn't know why he canceled the call to FHP.

“Obviously an error did occur somewhere,” Mulligan says. “And it was someone within our agency who relayed the information to FHP that the individuals didn’t require a crash report, and so we don't know where that data came from at this point, and we’re going to look into it.”

A new deputy has been assigned to Seth’s case and is canvassing the area for the driver of the gold Lexus SUV. Mulligan also says an administrative review is under way to figure out what caused the communication breakdown. Doctors say Seth should make a full recovery within about two months.

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.