Safety questions surface in wake of popular activist’s death

Tragedy has engulfed this year’s SMART Ride as a community mourns the loss of a talented man and questions linger as to his death.

SMART Ride 11 raised more than $1 million for multiple HIV/AIDS agencies and services, but the shocking death of Mark’s List founder, Mark Haines is what everyone is talking about. Haines, 54, was struck by a truck while crossing on foot U.S. 1 in the Florida Keys after the conclusion of the first day of riding. He died instantly.

“It is a very tragic loss for our community,” said longtime Florida Keys LGBT leader Steve Smith. “Mark was a gentle man, very genuine and he loved what he did. He was very passionate about giving back to the community and he worked hard.”

The SMART Ride is a perfect example of giving to a good cause. Participants bicycle a 165-mile course from Miami to Key West over two days. Their efforts are rewarded by donations, which go to the fight against HIV/AIDS, a disease that infects 1.1 million Americans.

“With HIV/AIDS continuing to negatively affect so many in our community, events like the SMART Ride 11 are crucial in raising awareness and funds to help those afflicted with this disease,” said Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez.

In total, SMART Ride 11 raised $1,109, 124 with the Pride Center’s Pride Pack topping the list of 50 teams with $117,812. Haines was riding for the Pride Center. He was rider No. 548.

The Pride Center issued the following statement: “We are saddened to say good bye to long term Pride Center supporter, friend and community leader, Mark Haines. Mark always donated his services to promote social service agencies and nonprofits throughout Florida, including The Pride Center, and asked for nothing in return. Every LGBT business owner in town knew Mark and thousands of people benefitted from his marketing and promotion skills. Our staff and volunteers were repeatedly inspired by him as he joined our Pride Pack team this year and trained for The SMART Ride. We watched him shed the pounds and increase his speed. We’ve never seen him happier than when he successfully completed his first 100 miles on Saturday. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends. We hope they find some comfort in the care he consistently showed others and the joy he felt on his final day with us.”

Haines’ death has raised questions as to the safety of the SMART Ride and cycling in the Keys in general. Smith, who serves as the Chairman of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control, said he was confident proper safety measures were taken.

“The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office provides an escort for all riders,” Smith said. “We as a county go all out to ensure their safety.”

But sometimes accidents happen. Tommy Peek is living proof. Peek, a Fort Lauderdale resident, was struck by a car while cycling near Key Largo, sustaining minor injuries, but finishing the ride.

“I fell down and went boom,” he said.

Despite his bumps and bruises, Peek said he would gladly ride again next year and strongly supports the SMART Ride. His team, Cintora, finished ninth out of 50 teams, raising $33,823.

“Cycling is inherently dangerous,” Peek admitted. “There is a certain risk involved when you get on that bike, but so is life… you take risks in life and it’s better to enjoy it.”

Haines’ death is the first fatality associated with the SMART Ride. Friends said he was at the height of training, had lost nearly 70 pounds and found a passion for cycling.

“He was an amazing person,” Peek said.