PINELLAS PARK — Devonta Merriex, a man who caused a fatal accident while fleeing from a cocaine buy, has pleaded guilty to several charges and been sentenced to 24 years in prison.
The accident killed a mother of three and raised questions about the police sting operation that set the events in the motion. It began in July when Merriex, 20, drove in a white Monte Carlo with his half brother Rashane Barber to the parking area near Target on U.S. 19 in Pinellas Park. While there, Barber allegedly sold cocaine to an undercover police officer.
Other officers moved in, and Merriex escaped and sped south on U.S. 19 in the Monte Carlo.
Three minutes later, the car smashed into that of Nachenga E. Robinson, 32, of South Carolina, who had been turning from U.S. 19 onto 70th Avenue. She died and her three children in the back seat, ages 8 to 13, were injured. So was a friend of Robinson's father who had been riding in the front seat. Pinellas Park police said at the time they did not chase the fleeing Monte Carlo.
Merriex pleaded guilty Friday to third-degree murder, fleeing the scene of an accident with death, and three counts of reckless driving with serious bodily injury. He also apologized, and said he did not know Barber was planning to sell cocaine that day.
"I think it's a fair and just sentence for what happened," Assistant State Attorney Gregory Groger said of Pinellas-Pasco Judge Philip Federico decision.
Shortly after the accident, Robinson's brother Jerald said it was "so hurtful to know all the pain hasn't even set in yet." He also wondered: "Why would you have a big drug sting like that in the middle of town where there's innocent people?"
Pinellas Park police spokesman Sandy Forseth said police try to arrange for such operations in secluded areas, but it's not always possible. Many drug dealers prefer to set up deals in populated areas.
Curtis Krueger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8232.