A pellet fired from a passing sedan on Jan. 19 will forever remain in the leg of triathlete Melissa Sheppard of Melbourne, who was shot while biking on Eau Gallie Causeway and about to reach the top heading east.
The incident, still being investigated by the Melbourne Police Department, was Sheppard’s first negative encounter with traffic on the bridge in more than 10 years training there, but she now says her experience serves as a real-life cautionary tale of the dangers athletes face while training on all Brevard County roadways.
A registered nurse in the Medical Assisted Care Unit at Holmes Regional Medical Center, Sheppard heard the sound of the pellet gun, fired more or less point-blank, coming from a shiny four-door black sedan with tinted windows and four occupants in it as it drove by about 4 p.m.
At first stunned, but then realizing she had a hole in her thigh, Sheppard later learned that the situation was almost much worse and there would be no easy way to remove the pellet.
“The doctor said it was very near my femoral artery and that I was very lucky it didn’t hit that. I am counting my blessings for sure,” she said. “They would have to cut through layers of muscle to get to it and the injury that it would cause would be much worse than just leaving it in. It’s not going to hurt me leaving it in.”
Sheppard said she was in the bike lane next to the sidewalk barrier, just as she has been for 12 years of training without incident.
“The sidewalk is too narrow and I go way too fast. The bike lane is the size of a car lane and I always stay close to the wall,” she said. “I have never felt unsafe on that bridge and I’ve ridden it hundreds of times. I’ve never had anybody throw anything at me. I have always believed it’s a fairly safe area.’’
Reacting on Facebook after the shooting, Sheppard vowed to use her injury to bring awareness to the issue of athletes in danger while training.
“I will not just sit here and let it go. There needs to be consequences for actions so I am taking this as far as I can to build awareness and catch these people,’’ she posted.
“I’ve heard of beer bottles and full drinks being thrown at athletes. Where do they get that kind of hate? We’re just regular people trying to get in shape,” she said.
Word of the pellet-gun shooting struck an ominous but familiar chord among local athletes, said Space Coast Runners President Lisa Hamelin.
“I think a lot of the (cycling and running) community is on edge due to the news last week of Melissa getting shot at with a pellet gun. For cyclists especially, it is a sport/activity that is a dangerous one out on the roads,” she said.
“Mixing with vehicular traffic is always a risk going out. Adding yet another risk is just scary. It won’t stop me from going out on the Eau Gallie Causeway to run or cycle, but it will certainly be in the back of my mind.”
Added Sheppard: “Am I the same person that I was after Sunday? No. I’m definitely a different person.
“I am hesitant to go back up that bridge on my bike at all. I’m scared. It’s definitely impacted my life, no question. It has set me back. It’s frustrating for sure. You never know. There are movie theater shootings and people still go to movies. You have to live your life and not be afraid of people,’’ she said.
Anyone with information regarding this case can call Melbourne Police Det. Ian Mitchell at 321 608-6452.