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Was reckless child or driver at fault in fatal Tampa accident?

TAMPA — Two years ago, Pete Dreydoppel ran over and killed his 3-year-old neighbor as the boy played with a toy truck. That much everyone agrees on.

Then things get murky.

This week, six jurors must decide: Was Dreydoppel, 54, too impaired to drive? Or did the child dart into the road, leaving the driver no time to react?

The Riverview resident is on trial for a host of felony charges, including driving under the influence-manslaughter. In court Wednesday, prosecutors and public defenders made their opening pitches for which way the verdict should go.

Assistant State Attorney Felix Vega told jurors that Dreydoppel should not have been driving his old Nissan pickup through the streets of the Alafia Riverwoods Mobile Home Park on Feb. 7, 2007. He had marijuana and prescription drugs in his bloodstream, an unregistered truck, and hadn't had a valid driver's license in years. He suffers from illnesses that leave him unsteady on his feet and with imperfect vision.

But Maria Pavlidis, one of Dreydoppel's attorneys, said her client wasn't impaired. He wasn't driving recklessly. He traveled at less than 5 mph.

She said the "very unfortunate accident" occurred when Edward Francis Gould III ran into the road after his mother briefly looked away. The impact fractured the child's skull, and he died outside the rental home his family was being evicted from that same day.

In recorded conversations, Dreydoppel told Hillsborough sheriff's deputies that he always drove through the mobile home park with caution. Neighbors attested to his claim.

"I'm a stickler about that," he said. "You've got to keep your eyes on those kids all the time."

Deputies didn't smell alcohol on his breath, and tests revealed none in his blood.

He was able to speak the alphabet. He made only one mistake in six or seven runs through the finger-to-nose sobriety test.

He was too unsteady to perform all the field sobriety tests, they testified, but they couldn't really say if that was from intoxication or his ailments. He seemed slow to respond, maybe a little confused. His shoes were on the wrong feet.

Blood tests revealed marijuana in Dreydoppel's system, plus levels of Xanax that a forensic toxicologist described as significant and therapeutic.

That mix typically causes drowsiness, said Florida Department of Law Enforcement analyst Dale Livingston.

"A person can be taking a legal amount," he said, "and be impaired by it."

Colleen Jenkins can be reached at cjenkins@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3337.

Was reckless child or driver at fault in fatal Tampa accident? 01/21/09 [Last modified: Thursday, January 22, 2009 12:10am]

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