Friday, February 23, 2018
Public safety

Driver looking for an underage date ends up hitting four Pasco kids in Port Richey, authorities say

PORT RICHEY — The boys sat on top of a white wooden fence and watched the fight. It was 9 p.m. Monday, a week before school was set to start, and lots of kids were outside in the Pineland Park neighborhood with streets that dead end into the marshland of the gulf. The boys, four of them, ages 10 to 18, saw a group of men swarm over a Ford Explorer stopped on Cathy Drive and pull out the driver, beating him. The driver scrambled back in his SUV and hit the gas to flee. He lost control as he turned right on Rohrman Road, authorities said, and headed for the yard where the boys were.

"Run!" the boys screamed.

There wasn't enough time. The vehicle plowed through the fence, splintering the wood, hitting all four boys. Rayshaun Bennett, 10, and Beau Potter, 15, both of Port Richey, were flown to All Children's Hospital with serious injuries, according to the Florida Highway Patrol. Friends said Rayshaun suffered two broken legs and Beau had a severely lacerated foot. Sebestian Chapman, 18, of Hudson, and Brandon Smith, 12, of Port Richey, were taken to Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point with minor injuries. Brandon, who lives on Sandra Drive a block away from the crash, was home Tuesday, sore, bruised and cut.

"I feel injured," he said in his darkened bedroom, "and sad."

Authorities said the driver of the Explorer, Misael Ochoa-Garcia, 26, was intoxicated and also crashed into a parked car before ditching his SUV and fleeing into the woods, FHP said. He was tracked down by police dogs and arrested.

Ochoa-Garcia was in the neighborhood that night for illicit reasons, said Pasco Sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll. He was "trying to set up a date with a 14-year-old girl," Doll said.

Two of the men accused of beating Ochoa-Garcia — Bobby Willis, 25, and Brian Sisk, 22, both of Port Richey — were arrested and charged with battery. Doll did not disclose their relationship to the 14-year-old girl. She lives in the neighborhood, but adult relatives at her house did not want her to talk to the Times on Tuesday.

Willis and Sisk are being held at the Land O'Lakes jail in lieu of $500 bail. Both men told deputies they surrounded Ochoa-Garcia's SUV and wanted to fight him, but insisted they never actually threw a punch.

Deputies are searching for a third suspect in that fight.

Ochoa-Garcia, of 11242 Taft Drive in Port Richey, was charged with DUI, driving without a license and leaving the scene of an accident with injuries, as well as two warrants for failing to appear in court on previous DUI and drivers license-related charges. Records indicate he has never had a Florida driver's license and is a Mexican citizen. He is being held without bail at the Pasco jail, and the Sheriff's Office said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has been notified of his arrest.

Brandon, who is supposed to start the sixth grade at Bayonet Point Middle School next week, said the Explorer hit him on his side. He remembers getting up and seeing his friends on the ground, and he was scared they were going to die. Rayshaun is his best friend and his legs were crushed, Brandon said. There was blood coming out of his nose and mouth. Brandon said he knew he needed to get help so he ran to Rayshaun's house and got his friend's mom. He said Rayshaun's mother gave him her phone and told him to talk with the 911 dispatcher as she ran to the scene.

"I'm hurt," Brandon said he told the dispatcher.

He tried to run back to his friends but collapsed in the road. This is where Brandon's mother, Tina Smith, 31, found him after she heard about the crash and raced to the scene. Paramedics told her Brandon passed out from the emotion of what happened. She said she feels very lucky that her son seems to be okay and that the others are expected to recover, but she's fighting the urge for vengeance against Ochoa-Garcia.

"There's a lot of anger," Smith said. "I've got to bite my tongue and grind my teeth."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story.

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