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Motorist who went on rampage on U.S. 19 in Hernando now faces vehicular homicide charge

BROOKSVILLE — Charles Hesser survived for 50 days after a Ford minivan slammed into the back of his Toyota truck on U.S. 19 last year.

After the collision, Hesser's pickup veered across the median near Northcliffe Boulevard, flipped six times and slid to a stop in the highway's southbound lanes. On April 8, 2012, the 72-year-old retired plant superintendent, who wintered with his wife in Weeki Wachee, died.

Prosecutors say Hesser was a casualty of Richard R. Barrett Jr.'s rolling rampage. After a months-long investigation of the Feb. 15, 2012, crash by the Florida Highway Patrol, Barrett now faces a vehicular homicide charge.

The 39-year-old Port Richey man has a history of mental illness that might preclude a conviction. But even an acquittal by reason of insanity will protect the public by ensuring that Barrett remains under court supervision, said Assistant State Attorney Bill Catto.

"At the very least, we have somebody looking over his shoulder to make sure he's going to treatment, taking his medication and doing what he's supposed to do to prevent events like this from happening again," Catto said.

As rush hour ebbed that morning, sheriff's deputies began to receive calls about a crazed man driving through Hudson and throwing objects from his van.

About 9 a.m., the van rammed a Toyota Camry from behind near Aripeka Road, Hernando sheriff's reports say. Hesser was on his way home from Lowe's when Barrett slammed into his Toyota moments later. Hesser was taken to a hospital with serious injuries.

Barrett kept driving the crunched and smoking van north, clipped a pickup and finally rolled to a stop near Cortez Boulevard. When Deputy Gisele Mulverhill approached the van, Barrett was screaming "f--- you," apparently to no one at all, Mulverhill wrote in a report. Then he started screaming at her.

"I'll kill you," he shouted, foamy saliva spraying from his mouth.

It took two deputies, two Taser shots and pepper spray to get Barrett cuffed and shackled. Barrett swung and missed at Mulverhill, but landed a kick to her stomach.

While waiting for treatment of minor injuries at Oak Hill Hospital, Barrett called himself a "speed racer" who was trying to see how fast he could drive. He admitted smashing into the back of a vehicle, causing it to roll over, the report says.

"Something took over my mind," he said.

After Barrett's arrest, his wife, Rachel, told the Times that her husband suffers from bipolar disorder and had the condition under control with the help of medication until earlier that week. He cursed at his family and tried to suffocate his father, Rachel Barrett said.

Rachel Barrett said she locked herself in a bedroom, and her husband threatened to kill her family if she didn't let him in. The next morning, Rachel Barrett filed papers to have her husband involuntarily placed at a mental health facility, then drove to the house in Port Richey to check on him. That's when she saw deputies there and flashing lights. The crashes had already occurred.

Barrett was charged with battery on a law enforcement officer. Two counts of assault on an officer were later dropped.

In December, Hernando Circuit Judge Daniel B. Merritt Sr. found Barrett not guilty after three mental health experts, including one appointed by prosecutors, testified that Barrett was insane at the time of the incident. The experts based their assessment largely on reports and video taken that day.

Barrett was granted a conditional release and ordered to continue court-supervised, outpatient mental health treatment. His driver's license was suspended indefinitely.

As part of someone's conditional release, health care providers give the court periodic updates on the patient. A judge has the authority to commit the patient to a state hospital if necessary.

Doctors would likely testify that Barrett's mental state extended throughout the course of the incident, Catto said. If Barrett is cleared of the homicide charge because of insanity, a judge can extend his supervised release.

"Our office needs to do what it can to make sure the court has as much jurisdiction over him for as long as possible," Catto said.

Barrett, who is due in court next month for a status check, could not be reached. His attorney, Assistant Public Defender Lisa Martin, declined to comment.

Motorist who went on rampage on U.S. 19 in Hernando now faces vehicular homicide charge 09/17/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 17, 2013 7:18pm]
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