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Woman guilty of hitting motorcyclists in Ruskin, driving off

TAMPA — When Dennis Meyers got home the night of July 1, 2011, he saw blood dripping from the bumper of his wife's Buick.

He tried to call 911, but Susanne Meyers ripped their house phone from the wall, he testified in court Tuesday. When he pulled out his cellphone, she took that from him, too.

She knew she had hit a pair on a motorcycle, prosecutors contended, but was afraid to report it because she had drinks that night. Her attorneys say she didn't know what she hit on that dark portion of U.S. 41 in Ruskin.

She had hit Thomas Colson, a grandfather and owner of the Big Dog chopper, and his friend Galilee Howard, a retired widow who had a picture of Jesus with her the night of the crash.

Tuesday evening, jurors sided with prosecutors. After deliberating just over an hour, they convicted Susanne Meyers, 53, on both counts of leaving the scene of a crash with death.

A group of two dozen friends, family members and motorcyclists saved tears and hugs until they were out of the courtroom.

"I'm ecstatic," said Colson's younger sister, Sunnie Hartless, 57. "I promised him justice would be done."

"It has been stressful," said Howard's son-in-law, James Pugh.

They say they're looking forward to sentencing, which will likely be in May.

During the daylong trial, the defense built a case of a crash that lasted less than a second.

The odometer on the motorcycle rested at 92 mph. The road was dark.

"If Ms. Meyers had blinked, she could have missed it," said defense attorney Kenneth Littman.

She would have at least heard the impact, the state countered, and she should have stopped.

That's what Umesh Bhakta did. He was driving to his Ruskin home that night when he ran over debris from the crash. He pulled over and found a motorcycle and two bodies in the grass.

Both Colson, 62, and Howard, 69, died at the scene.

The pair had been driving home from a motorcycle club gathering on Colson's Big Dog chopper. He was a lifelong biker and loved sharing his adventures with Howard.

Meyers chose not to testify Tuesday, but the jurors heard her voice. Troopers had two recorded interviews with her, the first several hours after the crash, after she had been told about the deaths.

In that 14-minute recording, Meyers is quiet and emotional. She repeatedly says she does not know why she did not stop.

"I don't know. I really didn't see anything," she said.

She mumbles something about always being conscientious about motorcyclists.

"I ride on the back of one with my husband," she said.

Listening, Meyers started crying in court. Her now-former husband sat with the victims' families.

He said the damage to her Buick was noticeable that night. He used a flashlight to further inspect it before trying to call deputies. After tussling with Susanne Meyers for the phone, he called 911.

Investigators were soon on their doorstep.

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3433.

Woman guilty of hitting motorcyclists in Ruskin, driving off 02/26/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 26, 2013 11:46pm]
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