Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Street racer found guilty in 83-year-old woman's death

TAMPA — She staked her claim soon after he walked into the Ybor City restaurant where she worked as a waitress.

"I'll take the short one," she told a co-worker.

Two weeks later, they were married.

The 61-year love story of William and Vertis Ryan ended tragically on Feb. 11, 2007, when a man racing in a Nissan 350Z slammed into their car as the Ryans made a U-turn at Gibsonton and Kenda drives.

Vertis Ryan, 83, died on impact. Her children say first responders found her leaning against her husband's shoulder in the mangled car. William Ryan had serious injuries, but recovered.

On Wednesday, a Hillsborough County jury convicted Roger Lee Yeager, 39, of Gibsonton, of vehicular homicide, reckless driving and unlawful racing. He could get at least 15 years in prison when Circuit Judge Emmett Lamar Battles sentences him next month.

Michael Anthony Smith, 23, the man charged with racing Yeager then leaving the scene of the accident, pleaded guilty to avoid a 30-year sentence. He received three years in prison and testified this week against Yeager.

Jurors reached their verdicts within three hours of deliberation. William Ryan never got to hear it. He died in August of heart failure at 87.

His children say he "technically died" two years ago with their mother.

"In so many ways, he shut down," said daughter Vicki Herndon.

William Ryan never left home after the crash, except for the occasional doctor's appointment. He refused to sleep in his bed, spending his nights in his wife's recliner.

Vertis Ryan had been sick with a cold the day she died and her husband decided to take her for a Sunday morning drive. She suggested going past their church to see how many people had shown up for service. They were making a U-turn at the same spot they made a U-turn twice a week on Sundays when Yeager slammed into them.

Sheriff's investigators estimated Yeager's speed at more than 100 mph as he raced Smith along eastbound Gibsonton Drive in the 45 mph zone. At the time of impact, authorities said Yeager had slowed to 63 mph.

Assistant Public Defender Jennifer Spradley argued that what happened was nothing but a tragic accident.

"This was not the fast and the furious, two people racing down the road in the middle of the night. 'I'll beat you to 301,' " Spradley said. "Everyone would love to live in a word where tragic accidents don't happen."

She urged jurors to not base their decision on sympathy.

Assistant State Attorney Barbara Coleman reminded jurors during closing arguments that witnesses saw Yeager revving his engine at a traffic light and jumping forward as he waited for the signal to turn green.

"He was showing off," Coleman said.

Prosecutors used video surveillance from a carwash along Gibsonton Drive that captured the two cars racing.

Relatives called the Ryans a loving and devoted couple. She had called him "Shorty" since she first saw him in Ybor and the nickname stuck. Folks around town knew them as "Vert and Shorty."

He served in World War II and then got a job as a maintenance man. She stayed home to raise their four children.

"My parents were the salt of the earth," said Ron Ryan. "They were the kind of people that help make this earth great."

They helped start churches, though they never served in the ministry. They took in people in need. They lived by the Golden Rule.

Daughter Elaine Rimes became the primary caregiver of her father following the accident. She and other siblings took turns spending the night with their father so he was never alone.

Mike Ryan said they rallied around their father to let him know he was still Dad. They said he cherished the role as caregiver. The day he died, he'd asked his son Mike whether he had food at home to eat.

William Ryan lived long enough to learn of Smith's sentence.

"Even after the accident, Daddy said all I want is for justice to be done," Herndon said.

If it took three years in prison for Smith to learn a lesson, that was okay with Mr. Ryan, his children said.

"I have a choice to make in life now to be bitter or be better," Ron Ryan told the judge. "My parents took every situation and chose to be better. So we choose to be better and not bitter over this."

Kevin Graham can be reached at or (813) 226-3433.

Street racer found guilty in 83-year-old woman's death 10/14/09 [Last modified: Thursday, October 15, 2009 12:02am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Bucs have chance to beat Vikings in their third stadium


    Here's a cool sign that the Bucs are getting up there as an NFL franchise: If Tampa Bay can win Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium, it will mark the first time the Bucs have posted road wins against the same NFL opponent in three different stadiums.

    TIMES ARCHIVES (2012) | Bucs RB Doug Martin runs during Tampa Bay's 36-17 win at the Vikings in 2012, in what was then called Mall of America Field. If Tampa Bay wins Sunday, it will mark the first time they have road wins against the same NFL opponent in three different stadiums.
  2. Memorial for Snooty the manatee, postponed because of Irma, to be held Sunday


    A public memorial to celebrate the life of 69-year-old Snooty the manatee will be held at the South Florida Museum on Sunday from noon to 5 p.m.

    Snooty , the world's most celebrated manatee, begs for another slice of apple in his pool in the Parker Manatee Aquarium at the South Florida Museum in Bradenton in 2008. Snooty was 60 then. [Times 2008]
  3. Residents wade through a flooded road after the passing of Hurricane Maria, in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico, Friday, September 22, 2017. Because of the heavy rains brought by Maria, thousands of people were evacuated from Toa Baja after the municipal government opened the gates of the Rio La Plata Dam. [Associated Press]
  4. NFL commissioner, players' union angrily denounce Trump comments on national anthem


    SOMERSET, N.J. — The National Football League and its players' union on Saturday angrily denounced President Donald Trump for suggesting that owners fire players who kneel during the national …

    President Donald Trump walks off the stage after he speaks at campaign rally in support of Sen. Luther Strange, Friday, Sept. 22, 2017, in Huntsville, Ala. [Associated Press]
  5. New earthquake, magnitude 6.1, shakes jittery Mexico


    MEXICO CITY — A strong new earthquake shook Mexico on Saturday, causing new alarm in a country reeling from two still-more-powerful quakes this month that have killed nearly 400 people.

    Locals play pool at a venue in Mexico City's La Condesa neighborhood, Friday, Sept. 22, 2017, four days after the 7.1 earthquake. The upscale Mexico City neighborhood was one of the hardest hit, with more than a half-dozen collapsed buildings in the immediate vicinity. The few Condesa residents who ventured out Friday night said they were anxious for relief from an anguishing week. [Associated Press]