Monday, June 25, 2018
News Roundup

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, [email protected] or @Jonsilman1 on Twitter.

Comments
Tampa man faces murder charge in hit-and-run that killed father during family bike ride

Tampa man faces murder charge in hit-and-run that killed father during family bike ride

TAMPA ó A Tampa man faces charges , including premeditated first-degree murder, following his arrest Sunday night in a hit-and-run that killed a father and left his 3-year-old son seriously injured while on a family bike ride earlier in the afternoon...
Updated: 4 minutes ago
The Daystarter: Arrest made in New Tampa hit-and-run; who will pay for their name on proposed Rays park in Ybor?; Rays complete series sweep of Yankees

The Daystarter: Arrest made in New Tampa hit-and-run; who will pay for their name on proposed Rays park in Ybor?; Rays complete series sweep of Yankees

Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what to know today. † • We’ll have another wet day to start the week, with widespread afternoon and evening thundershowers, according to 10Weather WTSP. High temperatures should top out near ...
Updated: 14 minutes ago

Hooper: Michelle Obamaís 2016 clarion call needs to be heard today

When they go low, we go high.Those words drew an astounding amount of applause when then First Lady Michelle Obama delivered them at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.Yet some people treat the statement as merely the basis of a good meme, inste...
Updated: 24 minutes ago
Woman killed by lightning strike on Siesta Key

Woman killed by lightning strike on Siesta Key

A woman was killed Sunday afternoon in a lightning strike on Siesta Key.According to the Sarasota County Sheriffís Office, deputies responded after receiving a call around 2:15 p.m. of a person struck by lightning in the 6000 block of Midnight Pass R...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Ex-Bucs DE Keith McCants arrested, facing cocaine charge

Ex-Bucs DE Keith McCants arrested, facing cocaine charge

Former Alabama star and Bucs defensive end Keith McCants was arrested in St. Petersburg early Monday morning and is facing a felony charge of possession of crack cocaine, according to arrest records.McCants, 50, was arrested by the Pinellas County Sh...
Updated: 2 hours ago
PolitiFact Florida: Republican PAC misleads in ad about Sen. Bill Nelsonís record on Social Security, Medicare

PolitiFact Florida: Republican PAC misleads in ad about Sen. Bill Nelsonís record on Social Security, Medicare

A new ad portrays Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson as a career politician who doesnít have the backs of senior citizens.The New Republican PAC, which is backing Gov. Rick Scott in Floridaís closely watched Senate race, released a 30-second ad criticizing ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
What name would a new Rays stadium carry? Itís a multi-million dollar question

What name would a new Rays stadium carry? Itís a multi-million dollar question

TAMPA ó Yankee Stadium, Fenway and Wrigley are ballparks whose names are woven into the lore of Americaís national pastime.Petco Park and Guaranteed Rate Field? Not so much.The trade-off for that clunky corporate handle is typically an annual payout ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
The pros and cons of Tom Jurich as potential USF AD candidate

The pros and cons of Tom Jurich as potential USF AD candidate

Former Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich has emerged as a legitimate candidate to take over USF, as our Joey Knight reported late last week.Despite the chatter around USF and in the industry, I'm skeptical; I wouldn't be surprised if the Bulls'...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Visit St. Pete-Clearwater partners with HSN to turn shoppers into tourists

Visit St. Pete-Clearwater partners with HSN to turn shoppers into tourists

Valerie Stupís toes are in the sand at Clearwater Beach. Guy Yovan is spotting dolphins near Johnís Pass. Sarah Anderson is touring the Dali Museum.Usually HSNís shoppers only see their favorite network hosts inside the studio selling handbags, cookw...
Published: 06/25/18
Wondering what St. Pete is up to? Check the cityís data yourself

Wondering what St. Pete is up to? Check the cityís data yourself

ST. PETERSBURG ó Maybe you want to track your tree-trimming request. Or see what kind of water mains were worked on last month. Or check how many police calls came from downtown on a recent Thursday before 4 p.m. (The answer is 25.)Now city residents...
Published: 06/25/18