Republican congressional candidate David Jolly was the driver in a fatal car accident at the age of 16.
He was not charged with any violation, but 25 years later someone has been anonymously trying to drum up publicity about the Friday night in June 1989.
Jolly and a female friend headed to University Square Mall, stopped later at Dunkin' Donuts and then cruised toward his home in Dade City.
Tragedy came in a split second.
Driving his father's blue Crown Victoria on rural Bruce B. Downs Boulevard at about 55 mph, Jolly suddenly spotted two people walking on the side of the road at 9:30 p.m. He fatally struck 30-year-old Blair W. Ropes from behind, according to an investigation report.
"It was a human tragedy that occurred when I was a young man," Jolly told the Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday. "A man lost his life, a family lost a loved one. And that storyline has no business in a political campaign. My intent is to honor the family that has lost someone dear to them and it's not something we will be talking about further.
"The public records have been there for 25 years. I question the motivation of somebody that's now brought this forward. This was a tragedy. We owe nothing but our sadness and condolences to the family. And I don't intend to talk about this during this campaign."
Jolly is in a heated race for Pinellas County's open Congressional District 13 seat. He faces Democrat Alex Sink and Libertarian Lucas Overby in a March 11 special election.
"This is a tragic story," said Ashley Walker, Sink's campaign manager. "Our campaign had no involvement in giving this information to the press. It would be inappropriate for us to comment on it further."
The Times received an anonymous note about the incident in the past week. A Times news story from 1989 failed to surface in earlier coverage of Jolly's campaign because it misspelled his name as Jolley.
Ropes, owner of a lawn care business, had been riding his motorcycle with a friend, Sandra Vendl, toward University Square Mall, but the motorcycle broke down. They began walking northbound in the northbound lane, according to a Florida Highway Patrol investigation report.
The report says Ropes died at the scene after landing on Jolly's windshield and hood and being thrown 147 feet onto the pavement. After impact, the report says, Jolly "did not stop but drove north to SR-54 and summoned emergency personnel to the scene. After having done this, he returned to the scene."
The investigator concluded that Ropes was at fault for walking on the pavement rather than the shoulder of the road. Vendl was cited for failing to walk on the shoulder facing traffic.
The report did not fault Jolly. Investigators said Ropes was wearing dark clothing and would have been difficult to see.
Kent Ropes, the brother of Blair Ropes, recalled for the Times that some family members questioned whether authorities declined to charge Jolly with any violation because Jolly's father was a prominent Baptist minister in east Pasco. "My mother was quite upset about it and thought more should have been done, but the way I thought about it was that it wouldn't bring my brother back so let the Lord handle it," said Ropes, who now lives in Homosassa and said he has forgiven Jolly and hopes he learned something from the accident.
Times staff writer Curtis Krueger contributed to this report. Adam C. Smith can be reached at [email protected]