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Federal judge dismisses lawsuit against FHP from Christmas Day crash in Pasco

On Christmas day in 2007, David Belniak's pickup slammed into a stopped SUV, packed full of people and presents — even the holiday ham.

Three of those people died, and in 2011, Belniak, now 40, pleaded guilty to three counts of DUI manslaughter and other charges in exchange for 12 years in prison.

Then the lawsuits began: First, Belniak's lawyer and sister Debra Tuomey sued, alleging the crash was the other driver's fault. A jury disagreed and awarded $4.5 million each to three sisters whose parents were killed. Next, Tuomey sued in response to the judgment awarding the victim's family money. Finally, she sued the Florida Highway Patrol and three individual troopers for what she called "civil rights violations." She argued that FHP's investigation of the case was a "government-sanctioned assassination against one individual."

On Monday, a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit against FHP.

Linda McWilliams, 66, her daughter, Denise Bassi, 50, and Denise's husband, Gerard Bassi, 51, all died in the accident at U.S. 19 and Little Road in Hudson. Ray McWilliams, who was driving, was injured but survived. Family members said he never fully recovered and he died later at 68.

Now, the civil case to collect money from Belniak is ongoing, but lawyers for the estate said they hope to resolve it soon.

"The surviving family is frustrated," attorney Maureen Deskins said. "Mr. Belniak, although he caused all this damage, it has not prevented him from manipulating the court system in an effort to paint himself as the victim."

Federal judge dismisses lawsuit against FHP from Christmas Day crash in Pasco 03/25/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 25, 2014 5:00pm]
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