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Probe of Polk deputy's role in fatal crash ends with no charges

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has determined that no criminal charges are warranted in a 2002 car crash that killed 16-year-old Miles White.

"There is no identifiable criminal predicate that would warrant further investigation by the (FDLE) office of executive investigations,'' the FDLE's eight-page report concluded.

Two investigators drove from Tallahassee to Lake Hamilton in Polk County on Wednesday to deliver their findings to the parents of the teen.

"The FDLE investigators told us today that they saw no evidence that (Polk sheriff's Deputy Scott) Lawson hit the car or that there was a police coverup or a link between Lawson's sexual activities and the car chase,'' said Miles' father, Gary White. "They did acknowledge violations in the chase and omissions in the investigation, but said they were internal matters and nothing was criminal."

"I was afraid the investigation would come to this," Miles' mother, Jamie White, said. "Miles is dead and neither Lawson nor the Sheriff's Office will ever be held accountable."

Gov. Charlie Crist assigned the FDLE to investigate in January 2009 after stories in the St. Petersburg Times questioned the role of Deputy Lawson in the crash and the Sheriff's Office handling of the investigation. The FDLE was told to review the case and decide whether to recommend criminal charges.

Scott Wilder, communications director of the Polk County Sheriff's Office, said his office was pleased with the state's finding.

"The crash was a terrible tragedy — we've always said that — but the Times suggested there was a coverup, and we're glad that it has come out that there was not."

An artist, musician and high school honor student, Miles White was killed May 31, 2002, when the car in which he was a passenger ran off a dark country road, hit a tree and split in two.

The 18-year-old driver, Adam Jacoby, had alcohol in his system and was charged with manslaughter for what the Sheriff's Office determined was a single-car crash.

The boys had been chased for 15 miles at speeds averaging 105 mph by Lawson, who was driving an unmarked car. Lawson never activated his police lights or siren to stop the boys, and his Crown Victoria was right behind Jacoby's car when it left the road.

The report Lawson filed included statements contradicted by evidence, and the sheriff's accident investigators did not interview him in their investigation. Lawson's car was removed from the crash scene without being examined, only to resurface five days later.

The FDLE report said that a private investigator, Wayne Tucci, hired by Jacoby's attorney, inspected the car "shortly after the traffic crash," along with Chief Gary Hester of the Sheriff's Office, and they "did not observe any damage to the vehicle."

Jacoby's attorney, Davis Connor, said Wednesday that the FDLE report mischaracterized what happened.

"It was six days later when Tucci and Hester first saw that car," Connor said. "It was five days before anyone from the Sheriff's Office inspected it. There is a huge, incomplete hole in our knowledge about what happened to that car.''

Within a week of the crash, Lawson was charged with sexual battery and practicing medicine without a license after 18 men between the ages of 16 and 28 told the Sheriff's Office that Lawson had molested them.

Lawson pleaded guilty to some of the charges and was sentenced to 15 years in prison as a sex offender, but the Sheriff's Office never connected Lawson's sexual proclivities to the car chase.

Jacoby was sentenced to six years of probation for manslaughter. Last year the sentence was cut in half and his probation terminated.

"There does not appear to be compelling evidence suggesting that the vehicle driven by Sgt. Lawson struck the vehicle driven by Adam Jacoby,'' the FDLE found.

The Times interviewed four accident reconstruction experts, among them Miles Moss, who said photos of damage to Jacoby's car and tire marks strongly suggested Lawson caused the crash.

The FDLE wrote: "The opinions documented by the independent or outside traffic crash reconstruction experts were found to have been based on limited information and all who were interviewed acknowledged the limitation.''

The FDLE said that Moss "acknowledged that some of the quotes attributed to him in the newspaper were imprecise."

Moss said Wednesday he told the FDLE that the quote "something had to have hit the rear bumper and knocked him off the road" was more likely "something had hit the rear bumper and knocked him off the road."

"I don't think I used the words 'to have.' But, other than that, the quotes were accurate. There was very strong information that the Passat (the car Miles was in) was hit. The tire marks and condition of the car were consistent with impact and that was, and still is, my conclusion."

Miles White's parents believe Jacoby did not cause the accident. They believe Lawson did and the Sheriff's Office covered it up. They were hoping the FDLE would find the same. Instead, Wednesday's news was a setback.

"We disagree,'' Gary White said, "but both Lawson and the Sheriff's Office are off the hook.''

"It's so sickening,'' Jamie White said. "I feel I've let my son down. I couldn't protect him from Lawson or the crash, and I can't get the truth out for him now.''

Meg Laughlin can be reached at (727) 893-8068 or mlaughlin@sptimes.com.

Probe of Polk deputy's role in fatal crash ends with no charges 04/14/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 14, 2010 11:32pm]

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