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Man sues victims in DUI manslaughter a second time

A Spring Hill man who pleaded guilty to a 2007 Christmas Day DUI manslaughter in Hudson has sued the victims' families for a second time.

David Belniak had drugs in his system and never hit the brakes when he slammed into the back of a family's SUV while it was stopped at a red light. Three people died.

In 2011, he pleaded guilty to three counts of DUI manslaughter and was sentenced to 12 years in prison. He never said a word in court, not even when the victims' children begged him for an apology.

In 2012, his attorney, Debra Tuo­mey, who is also his sister, sued the deceased driver of the SUV, alleging the crash was the victim's fault. Tuomey argued that the Florida Highway Patrol's investigation of the case was a "government-sanctioned assassination against one individual."

A jury found no merit to the claims, and awarded $4.5 million each to three sisters whose parents were killed. Linda McWilliams, 66, her daughter, Denise Bassi, 50, and Denise's husband, Gerard Bassi, 51, all died. Ray McWilliams, who was driving, was injured but survived. Family members said he never fully recovered and he died later at 68.

The jury also awarded about $700,000 to McWilliams' estate, and Belniak voluntarily agreed to $1 million in punitive damages.

According to Maureen Deskins, attorney for the victims, no money has been collected so far. The latest lawsuit, Deskins said, is a response to efforts to collect on that judgment award.

Belniak is the son of Alfred and Marlene Belniak, who owned a construction company in Hernando County. Records show that Belniak was an officer in his parents' company and that he, his parents and their entities own more than two dozen properties in west Hernando.

Belniak foresaw a civil suit, Deskins said, and sold his assets to his parents within three weeks following the crash. She said Belniak made about $100,000 annually from his job with his parents' construction company and from collecting rent at his two apartment buildings.

"He kept his personal residence in his name, believing that (a) homestead exemption would protect his home from being attached and sold to pay for the judgment entered against him," Deskins said.

She said Belniak applied for a homestead exemption the day before he went to prison, but contends he can't claim an intention to live there since he agreed to be incarcerated, and therefore agreed to forfeit that intention. She's seeking a declaratory judgment in Hernando.

Tuomey says the action is a slander to the title of her brother's property. She's asking for at least $15,000, as well as punitive damages, which are awarded for gross negligence.

"It's a title action that Article 10, Section 4 of the Constitution provides a refuge from all strains of misfortune," Tuomey said. "Mr. Belniak is entitled to this refuge as is every homeowner in the state of Florida under our state Constitution."

Tuomey is also suing the Florida Highway Patrol and three individual troopers for what she calls "civil rights violations." That case is pending in federal court.

Also pending is a fraudulent transfer case against Belniak claiming he shouldn't have transferred property to his parents.

Georgette DeFranco lost her mother, sister and her brother-in-law in the crash. What's frustrating, she said, is that she agreed to a plea deal for Belniak.

"(His prison sentence) could've been much stiffer," DeFranco said, "and still it doesn't stop. We don't understand this."

The latest lawsuit is another blow in what feels like endless litigation and heartbreak.

"It honestly just doesn't end," she said. "Every time it's calm in our lives, it starts up again."

Jon Silman can be reached at (727) 869-6229, Jsilman@tampabay.com or @Jonsilman1 on Twitter.

Man sues victims in DUI manslaughter a second time 08/01/13 [Last modified: Thursday, August 1, 2013 10:38pm]
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