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Trial begins in DUI case in which cabdriver died in Pinellas County

LARGO — Joshua J. Donahue was just trying to make a living.

The 32-year-old didn't really want to be driving a taxi, but the former bartender and construction worker was having trouble finding a steady job.

So about 2 a.m. on April 12, 2010, Donahue was waiting for his next fare as he drove along Drew Street approaching Belcher Road. With a green light, he entered the intersection.

"Unfortunately, that's where he crossed the defendant's path," prosecutor Della Connolly said in her opening statement Tuesday in the trial of the man accused of killing Donahue while driving drunk.

Brian Ferry Sr., a habitual traffic offender whose license had been yanked by a judge nearly a decade earlier after multiple DUI convictions, is charged with DUI manslaughter, fleeing and eluding, and driving with a revoked license.

Prosecutors said Tuesday that Ferry, a 48-year-old transient from Largo, was fleeing a traffic stop when he blew through a red light and slammed into Donahue's taxi.

When Clearwater police Officer Kyle Resler approached the mangled sedan, Donahue was "gasping for breath," he testified in court Tuesday.

Donahue, a father of three daughters from New Port Richey, was pronounced dead at Mease Countryside Hospital at 2:35 a.m., less than an hour after Resler had seen Ferry drive away from the Copper Mug Bar on Belcher Road in a pickup truck.

Resler testified he had been watching the bar, waiting for Ferry, after a nephew of Ferry's approached him while Resler was on patrol and said his uncle was at the bar and had an outstanding warrant.

Resler said he verified the warrant, then tried to pull over the truck, but Ferry took off, at times going nearly double the speed limit. The officer said he backed off from a pursuit, citing the Clearwater Police Department's policy of not chasing people wanted for misdemeanor crimes.

Moments later, a fellow officer radioed that there had been an accident.

Ferry was found in the driver's seat of his pickup with a gash to his head, Resler said, and he refused to obey commands to turn off the engine and get out of the truck.

Resler, who said he has extensive experience with DUI cases, said Ferry smelled of alcohol and appeared intoxicated. Tests would later reveal that his blood-alcohol level was 0.205 at the time of the crash, more than twice the limit at which a driver is presumed impaired in Florida.

Ferry's public defenders gave no hint Tuesday of what their defense might be, forgoing their opening statement and reserving the right to give one at a later point in the trial. The trial, presided over by Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Chris Helinger, is scheduled to continue today.

Ferry was convicted of DUI three times in 1997 and once in 2001. Under the 2001 conviction, he was sentenced to three years in prison, and his license was permanently revoked.

Donahue was born in Syracuse, N.Y., and moved to the area in 1998. His mother, Sandy Morrissette, was in the courthouse Tuesday but declined to comment.

Interviewed after the crash, Janet Blydenburgh, the mother of Donahue's girlfriend, said the death was particularly tragic for one reason: Donahue had been planning to quit his job as a taxi driver the following week.

Rita Farlow can be reached at (727) 445-4157 or farlow@sptimes.com.

Trial begins in DUI case in which cabdriver died in Pinellas County 06/21/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 21, 2011 8:58pm]

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