NEW PORT RICHEY — William Minton was driving his pickup truck one night in June 2008 with several passengers in the bed and the cab. At one point, he swerved and someone in the back fell out.
Gary Comeau Jr., who was 18 and Minton's friend, died a week later.
Minton, 19, of Spring Hill, was charged with vehicular manslaughter, but a jury this week found him not guilty.
Willie Pura, Minton's public defender, said some people who were passengers in the truck testified that they were drinking alcohol and passing a bottle around. Minton was the designated driver.
He was driving along Laura Lee Drive in Shady Hills when he told the passengers to settle down. When they didn't, witnesses testified, Minton said: "Watch this."
Then he jerked the wheel. Comeau, who had been hanging over the side talking to someone in the cab, fell out of the truck.
Pura said Minton took the stand and told jurors he was lighting a cigarette when the pickup drifted off the road. He said he didn't intentionally swerve.
People in the truck started screaming, and Minton stopped, Pura said. They were near his grandfather's house, so they took Comeau there, where they were met by an ambulance.
Jurors deliberated for less than half an hour before returning Tuesday with the not guilty verdict, Pura said.
Molly Moorhead can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6245.