TAMPA — A Hillsborough judge on Monday refused to dismiss a murder charge against a towing company owner who has claimed self-defense in the shooting death of a driver accelerating toward him.
"It is inherently dangerous to pull a firearm and is best left to well-trained individuals who have a duty to serve and protect," Hillsborough Circuit Judge Robert Foster said, reading excerpts of his written ruling.
Attorneys for Donald Montanez, 48, asked Foster during a four-day hearing last week to toss out the case under Florida's "stand your ground" law, which allows people to meet force with force when they feel threatened.
Montanez said he fired once into a car driven by Glen Rich to avoid being killed. An employee testified that she and Montanez had seconds to jump to safety when Rich drove toward them during an early morning confrontation on Jan. 8, 2006.
Foster decided that the threat of imminent danger already had passed when Montanez fired his .40-caliber pistol. The bullet entered the front passenger side of the car and tore into Rich's chest through his armpit.
"Montanez was not justified in firing his weapon," the judge wrote.
Defense attorney Jeffrey G. Brown plans to appeal. "We're obviously disappointed," he said.
Brown will likely question the judge's interpretation of the stand-your-ground law on appeal, he said. Foster said immunity from prosecution doesn't apply in this case because the shooting didn't take place inside a house or vehicle.
Brown said he believes the law extends to the scenario for Montanez, who acted to protect his life and the life of an employee.
"You should not be allowed to simply take back your vehicle because you believe it was illegally towed," Brown said.
Rich, 30, two brothers and a friend spent the hours before the shooting at the Sugar Shack, an after-hours bottle club on Hillsborough Avenue.
When the men left the club about 4:30 a.m. and saw Rich's car missing, they went looking for it.
Montanez testified that he had a cordial conversation with the men and verified that one his employees had towed the car for parking illegally.
Rich's brothers said they wondered why the car was towed, because they parked on a grassy patch, away from a tow zone, at club security's direction.
Rich and his brothers confronted Montanez's employees about an hour later in a lot, where the cars were temporarily stored.
Several witnesses testified that Montanez pointed his gun's red laser sight at them while demanding they leave the lot, even though he had no authority to use the property.
"These individuals had no duty to stop as they were hearing the commands of a citizen, not a law enforcement officer," Foster wrote.
Besides second-degree murder, Montanez also faces one count of shooting into a vehicle and four counts of aggravated assault.
Kevin Graham can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3433.