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Pasco man guilty of vehicular homicide for race on U.S. 19 that killed a grandmother

NEW PORT RICHEY — A reckless game of one-upmanship.

That's what was on Justin Tanoff's mind as he was speeding down U.S. 19 on Jan. 17, 2007, prosecutors said, gunning with another aggressive driver.

That's what distracted him and caused him to crash into Oknan Ziegler's car, they said.

That's why Ziegler, 62, died.

A jury agreed Wednesday, finding Tanoff, 20, guilty of vehicular homicide. He faces between nine and 15 years in prison and will be sentenced later.

Lee Ann Perrone, Ziegler's daughter, cried and held tightly to her husband when the verdict was read. Outside the courtroom, she said she was glad justice was served. Her mother, she said, was born in Korea and worked many years in New York as a solderer. She and her husband, Paul, moved to the east coast of Florida to retire, then followed Perrone to New Port Richey to be near their grandchildren.

Perrone, 37, said she was eight weeks pregnant with her second child when her mother was killed. "She never got to see the baby girl," Perrone said.

Tanoff, authorities said, was driving a 1991 Honda south on U.S. 19 the morning of the crash. He cut off another driver in traffic, and the two began racing and weaving in and out of the lanes.

Between the signals at Darlington and Mile Stretch roads in Holiday, Ziegler began pulling out of the parking lot of the Salvation Army store, where she loved to shop. As she reached the middle lane of U.S. 19, headed for the median, Tanoff slammed into her driver's door.

His public defenders said Ziegler had failed to stop at the parking lot's stop sign and again before she entered the road. They also said she had a mix of prescribed drugs in her system — taken for fibromyalgia and other ailments — that could have made her drowsy.

They did not make a closing statement to jurors, who deliberated a little more than an hour before finding Tanoff guilty.

Aaron Kukla, the other driver racing with Tanoff that day, already pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of reckless driving from this incident, and was sentenced to six months' probation.

Tanoff has no prior felonies on his record for the judge to consider when sentencing him, Assistant State Attorney Mike Kenny said. But there is this: a pending charge of driving with a suspended license, which he picked up after the accident that killed Ziegler.

Molly Moorhead can be reached at moorhead@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6245.

Pasco man guilty of vehicular homicide for race on U.S. 19 that killed a grandmother 04/01/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 1, 2009 8:33pm]
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