TAMPA — The 911 call came just after 5:30 a.m. on Jan. 8, 2006, from a man furious that his car had been towed outside a Tampa after-hours club.
Glen Rich wanted his Chrysler Sebring back "right now," and asked police to help him get it.
A Hillsborough judge listened to a 911 tape Monday in which curse words flew between Rich, 30, his brothers and several tow truck drivers. Within minutes, there was the sound of a car engine revving followed by a gunshot.
Donald Montanez had no choice but to fire his .40-caliber pistol as Rich sped directly toward him and an employee, his attorneys say. They contend that Montanez deserves immunity from prosecution under Florida's "stand your ground" law — which allows people to meet force with force when they feel threatened. They want the second-degree murder charged dismissed.
Montanez, 47, is also facing four counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and one count of shooting into a vehicle.
Prosecutors have rejected the self-defense claim.
Hillsborough Circuit Judge Robert Foster will continue hearing testimony today and decide whether to toss the case or send it to a jury.
Assistant State Attorney Jay Pruner said employees of Montanez's Private Property Commercial Impound had no authority to tow Rich's car in the first place. Pruner said the vehicle was parked on the public right of way along Hillsborough Avenue and not on the property of a business next door, where Montanez had a contract to tow vehicles.
Pruner also said that Montanez and his crew had no right to keep patrons of the Sugar Shack, where Rich and his brothers had been, from retrieving their cars from the lot nearby that Montanez had been using as a staging area before taking cars to his impound lot.
Pruner said the tow company was trespassing on private property.
And when Montanez fired the shot that fatally wounded Rich, neither Montanez nor his employee remained in danger because they had jumped out of the car's path, Pruner said.
He questioned whether Montanez was in fear for his life or a "trigger happy" tow truck company owner. Pruner said Montanez arrived on the scene wearing a bulletproof vest, a concealed weapons badge around his neck and a firearm with a laser beam strapped to his waist.
Defense attorneys Jeffrey G. Brown and Jay Hebert said the 911 tape proves Montanez was afraid and had to act quickly.
"This is a scene that's just exploding and happening in fractions of a second," Brown said.
Lorraine Marie Whitehead, the employee who stood next to Montanez as Rich came toward them, testified that the car kicked up dust and its headlights blinded her as she stood there.
"I thought it was gonna hit me," she said. "It was only split seconds that we had to get out of the way."
She said she heard the gunshot as she dove to safety.
Rich stops responding to the 911 operator after he hops in the car and drives off, but the commotion is still captured on the tape. He moans in pain after being shot in the chest.
Relatives cried in court Monday as they listened to Rich's final moments. Montanez gazed at them, then wiped tears away.
Reach Kevin Graham at email@example.com or (813) 226-3433.