Every day around 3:30 a.m., both Roberto Perez and Cruz Sanucio bike to work in Immokalee. Up until last week, they did so without helmets or lights on their bikes.
“It’s very dangerous in the dark,” said Sgt. Chris Gonzalez of the Collier County Sheriff’s Office. Last year, 42 bicyclists and pedestrians were injured in Immokalee and East Naples. Four of the five biking fatalities in Collier County also occurred in Immokalee.
The Sheriff’s Office shed light on the dilemma last Wednesday by passing out free helmets, reflective vests, reflectors, blinking bike lights and informational flyers to bike riders outside the Fiesta Food Market in Immokalee. The giveaway is part of a campaign called “Be Safe, Be Seen.”
The main purpose is to help protect the lives of some of the county’s hardest workers living in Immokalee and East Naples who use their bike daily to get to work. Although the event started at 4 p.m., about 30 bicyclists were lined up well before then. Most of these bicycles lacked even the basic safety features, especially those needed for driving in the dark.
If those biking don’t work in Immokalee, they bike to a nearby bus station in the early morning, where they then ride a bus to work, usually in the dark. Before this event, most of them didn’t have a helmet or even a reflector on the back of their bike.
Out of all the many thank-you’s heard at the event, as bicycles were equipped, Gonzalez said the biggest thank you belongs to the Florida Department of Transportation, which provided a $37,000 grant that allowed the event to occur.
“Respect,” said Gonzalez, is what is also missing between bicyclists and motorists on the road, as they both need to share and look out for each other. He hopes this campaign will help promote and increase it.
More than 10 deputies from the Sheriff’s Office helped hand out about 200 of each item and put on the reflectors and blinking lights, as volunteers also helped and handed out flyers in English and Spanish. Lt. Rene Gonzales, who oversees the Sheriff’s Office minority affairs department, also helped with just about everyone who showed up, handing out flyers and directing the line.
No questions were asked in most cases, and sometimes the only words spoken by the bicyclists were “thank you.” Gonzalez said this is a great part of the successful event, which has happened in previous years. The success and gratitude will undoubtedly mean that the Sheriff’s Office will apply for another grant next year, as the effort to keep the county’s bicyclists and pedestrians safe continues to expand.
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Kelly Cohen is a Daily News intern who is a sophomore at the University of Missouri-Columbia.