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Towing employee testifies her boss pushed her to safety

Lorraine Whitehead becomes emotional while testifying Tuesday in the manslaughter trial of towing company owner Donald Montanez. She was there when Glen Rich was shot and killed.

EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN | Times

Lorraine Whitehead becomes emotional while testifying Tuesday in the manslaughter trial of towing company owner Donald Montanez. She was there when Glen Rich was shot and killed.

TAMPA — Lorraine Whitehead saw the headlights bearing down on her and thought she was going to die, but her boss, towing company owner Donald Montanez, pushed her to safety, she testified Tuesday.

With his right hand, Montanez shoved her to the right. He jumped left. And as Whitehead fell to the ground, she testified, she heard a gunshot.

Whitehead, 26, took the stand for three hours Tuesday, concluding a week of testimony in the case. A verdict could come as early as today.

On the stand, Whitehead said that when she heard the shot, she didn't know the driver, Glen Rich, had been hit. She would learn of that later.

Montanez is accused of manslaughter in Rich's death on Jan. 8, 2006.

His attorneys say Montanez was simply defending himself as Rich — a man set on getting his car back — barreled toward him. Prosecutors say Montanez shot into the side window of the car as it passed.

Whitehead's testimony aligned with much of what other towing company employees testified in court Monday:

A group of aggressive men, including Rich, confronted employee Cory Crites as he tried to load Rich's Chrysler Sebring onto his truck near a Tampa club called the Sugar Shack. Montanez showed up a few minutes later. Then Rich took off in his car.

But Whitehead's testimony included one statement not previously broached by any defense witnesses:

She says Montanez had pulled his gun from his holster before Rich got in his car.

"Drawn but not pointing at anybody," she testified during cross-examination.

"And at that time, the car was no threat to anybody because it wasn't occupied?" Assistant State Attorney Jay Pruner asked.

The judge had Pruner rephrase the question. "There was no one in the car?"

She nodded.

Whitehead is close friends with Montanez, who still employs her, she acknowledged during cross-examination.

She was paid $800 a week by him in 2007, she testified, and he helped her pay a deposit on an Apollo Beach apartment.

Attorneys for both the defense and prosecution plan to present their closing arguments this morning. The jury will likely start deliberating by afternoon.

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

Towing employee testifies her boss pushed her to safety 02/28/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 28, 2012 11:24pm]
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