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Driver on trial in fatal 2007 wrong-way collision in St. Petersburg

LARGO — Charles Hicks drove north in the southbound lanes of Interstate 275 in St. Petersburg so fast that when he collided with another car, "the only way to describe it is catastrophic," a prosecutor said.

It also was deadly.

The September 2007 crash killed Steven Cornell, a St. Petersburg College student who also had been a popular figure at Seminole High.

More than a dozen family members and friends came to court Monday for the trial of Hicks, 34, who has been charged with second-degree murder, vehicular homicide and aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer.

Cornell's mother, Jeanie, said she is hoping for justice, and, "I just hope to get the most punishment that's legally possible." Even so, she said, "that's not going to bring Steven back."

Some of Cornell's high school classmates also came, thinking of a friend who was "always about making everyone happy," said Steven Hano, 23. "He seemed invincible to us, to his friends," said Chris Jennings, also 23.

Hicks' attorney, Mark Thellman, said the accident was tragic, but told jurors "you will not hear any proof that it was Mr. Hicks who committed these crimes."

Although the prosecution said Hicks drove a greenish-blue car with one passenger, Thellman said there were indications that there were three people in the car. He said Hicks was not in the driver's seat.

But Assistant State Attorney Scott Rosenwasser said Hicks was driving recklessly through the city, even veering toward police officers.

He sped so fast down 18th Avenue S that an officer called it in to dispatch, both to warn other officers, and to see if someone could stop him, the officer testified.

To get away, Hicks went up a southbound exit ramp from I-275 and began driving north on the southbound lanes, Rosenwasser said. Police kept up with him by driving up the northbound lanes of the interstate.

Cornell was riding with his sister Mary Cornell, traveling south on I-275, when the cars collided, killing Cornell.

The trial resumes today.

Driver on trial in fatal 2007 wrong-way collision in St. Petersburg 04/20/09 [Last modified: Monday, April 20, 2009 11:21pm]
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