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Belligerent man arrested after series of accidents on U.S. 19 in Pasco, Hernando

WEEKI WACHEE — Something inside Richard Barrett Jr. changed over the last few days.

The 38-year-old Port Richey man suffers from bipolar disorder, his family said, but he had managed the disease for years. Then, earlier this week, his behavior became erratic and violent. His father, Richard Barrett Sr., didn't know why. Maybe his son was off his medication. Maybe it had quit working.

For a reason no seems to know, on Wednesday morning the younger Barrett embarked on a dangerous, destructive ride in his 2000 Ford minivan up U.S. 19 that resulted in at least three wrecks and left one man seriously injured, authorities said.

Deputies first began to receive calls about a crazed man driving through Hudson and throwing objects from his van, according to officials. Then, about 9 a.m., the vehicle began to tailgate Steven Turco's Toyota Camry near U.S. 19 and Aripeka Road. The van rammed him from behind seconds later.

Turco, who called 911, watched the van speed by him and then swerve off the road to go around another driver.

After Barrett crossed into Hernando County, investigators say, his minivan slammed into the back of 72-year-old Charles Hesser's Toyota Tundra. The pickup dug a 12-foot strip into the asphalt, then veered across the median, near Northcliffe Boulevard. It flipped six times before sliding to a stop in the inside lane on the highway's southbound side.

Authorities were stunned that Hesser, who was taken to a local hospital with serious injuries, had survived.

Debris was strewn 60 yards behind the vehicle. Parts from the van, including its front grill, were mixed with crunched pieces of metal, plastic and glass that had flown off the pickup.

With the front end smashed and smoke billowing from the van's engine, the vehicle sped north and soon struck Bernie Sowinski's pickup.

"I was on my way up 19 on my way to work when this clown clipped me," he said. "He just nailed me and kept on going. He never slowed down."

Sowinski followed the van as the driver went through a red light at U.S. 19 and State Road 50. Three hundred yards north, the van rolled to a stop. Sowinski pulled up next to the van and said Barrett began threatening and screaming at him "like a maniac."

"F--- you," Sowinski recalled him yelling. "You wanna go? You wanna go?"

Witnesses watched as a Hernando sheriff's deputy struggled to pull the 6-foot-8, 300-pound driver from his vehicle. He kicked her and tried to punch another deputy, they say; deputies used a Taser on him about six times before he was arrested. Barrett, wearing bedroom slippers, was loaded into an ambulance and taken to a local hospital with minor injuries.

"He just went crazy on the officers," said Lisa Hagan, a witness.

Before Wednesday's incident, Barrett had no criminal history in Florida and only minor traffic violations. He will likely face a slew of charges in the coming days, authorities said.

Richard Barrett Sr., who did not believe his son took illegal drugs or drank alcohol, said he had tried to persuade him to visit a psychiatrist on Tuesday, but he refused. The family had even called the Pasco Sheriff's Office with hopes that deputies would take him into custody or have him admitted to the hospital, but authorities couldn't help. Unable to deal with him, Barrett's wife, Rachel, spent Tuesday night with her mother in Tampa.

"I've seen him bad in the past," his father said, "but I'd never seen him like he was yesterday."

By late morning, authorities had cleaned up most of the wreckage and prepared to tow away Barrett's van. Both of its airbags had deployed, and the front window was smashed. Oil leaked from its undercarriage.

A can of Braswell's fig preserves lay on the floorboard. CDs by the Fugees, Linkin Park and Pink Floyd sat in the console next to a faded 3-year-old movie ticket.

A bumper sticker pasted to the rear door depicted a lighthouse from New York.

It said: "I've Seen The Light."

Times researcher Natalie A. Watson contributed to this report. Reach John Woodrow Cox at (352) 848-1432 or jcox@tampabay.com.

Belligerent man arrested after series of accidents on U.S. 19 in Pasco, Hernando 02/15/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 15, 2012 8:21pm]
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