Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Trial opens in 2007 Pasco crash that killed Oknan Ziegler

NEW PORT RICHEY — Oknan Ziegler was leaving the Salvation Army store on U.S. 19 where she loved to shop on Jan. 19, 2007, when an oncoming car T-boned her Toyota, and she died.

Was her death an accident or a crime?

Authorities charged Justin Tanoff, who was 18 at the time, with vehicular homicide. His trial started Monday.

Assistant State Attorney Mike Kenny told jurors that Tanoff, who drove a white 1991 Honda Civic, had gotten into a high-speed battle with another driver whom he cut off in traffic. The two raced down U.S. 19, weaving in and out of cars.

"The traffic (wasn't) moving fast enough for the defendant," Kenny said.

Between the traffic signals at Darlington and Mile Stretch roads, Ziegler was pulling out of the Salvation Army parking lot, turning left to go north. Tanoff struck her on the driver's side, then he crashed into the car he'd been racing with, a black Honda.

Tanoff is guilty, Kenny argued, because of the choices he made: to drive recklessly, speed and "play a game to stay ahead at the cost of Mrs. Ziegler's life."

Kemba Lewis, Tanoff's public defender, didn't dispute that Tanoff was speeding.

But she said Ziegler failed to stop at the stop sign in the store parking lot and again before she pulled out into traffic.

In addition, Lewis said, Ziegler, 62, had 15 different kinds of medication in her system.

"This case is about a very, very unfortunate accident," Lewis said.

Three drivers on the road that day testified.

Tom Coyne said he was at a red light when he first noticed Tanoff's car, loud bass booming from its interior.

Then Coyne watched as Tanoff and the black car, driven by Aaron Kukla, then 20, raced each other down the highway. Coyne lost sight of them, until he saw a big white puff of smoke from the crash.

James Golding, who witnessed the impact, said Ziegler's car was like a magnet — as she was crossing lanes, the two speeding cars were changing lanes toward her.

"I don't think anybody saw anybody," Golding said.

Dwinell Ouellette was driving a semitrailer delivery truck, sitting high above the road. He, too, watched the crash unfold in front of him.

"I remember thinking like, the white car wasn't stopping, wasn't going to stop," he said. "This is going to be close, be an accident."

Kukla has already pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of reckless driving from this incident, and was sentenced to six months' probation.

Tanoff faces a maximum of five years in prison.

Trial opens in 2007 Pasco crash that killed Oknan Ziegler 03/30/09 [Last modified: Monday, March 30, 2009 9:10pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Spencer: 'A better and more beautiful world if people like me were in power'

    K12

    In the a small theater crammed with cameras, Richard Spencer and a small group of his coordinators clashed with reporters as his controversial speech in the Phillips Center drew near Thursday.

    A crowd gathers ahead of Richard Spencer's appearance at the University of Florida on Oct. 19, 2017. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]
  2. Analysis: George W. Bush's unmistakable takedown of Trumpism - and Trump

    Columns

    For the last nine years, George W. Bush has largely stayed out of presidential politics; he declined to criticize his successor, Barack Obama, and he chose not to endorse but largely ignored President Donald Trump. While Mitt Romney and others spoke out publicly against Trump, Bush stayed above the fray.

    That …

    Former President George W. Bush speaks at a forum sponsored by the George W. Bush Institute in New York on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017. [Seth Wenig | Associated Press]
  3. Fennelly: Even frustrated Bucs fans hold out hope

    Blogs

    Many fans wrote back when I threw out an all-points the other day, asking if Bucs fans are perpetually in a state of expecting the worst.

    Bucs fans cheer during a preseason game against the Washington Redskins in August at Raymond James Stadium.
  4. 'The Walking Dead' marks 100 episodes with Easter eggs in Season 8 premiere

    Blogs

    The hit zombie series has come a long way since Rick Grimes woke up from a coma and entered a post-apocalyptic world overrun with the undead.

    Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes in The Walking Dead Season 8.
  5. Canterbury head of school to step down as board 'works to regain trust'

    Blogs

    Mac Hall, the head of school for Canterbury School of Florida in St. Petersburg, will step down from his role of 13 years at the end of the school year.

    Canterbury School of Florida's graduating class of 2010 walks towards St. Peter's Episcopal Church before their ceremony in downtown St. Petersburg. Their head of school, Mac Hall, will not return to the school next year.