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Fugitive driver is jailed in Largo DUI fatality

LARGO — A former Largo man has been arrested on a charge of DUI manslaughter and DUI with serious bodily injury, seven months after a crash that killed a motorcyclist and cost the passenger a leg.

James E. Laier, 57, was extradited from Kane County, Ill., near Chicago, to the Pinellas County Jail, where he was served with the arrest warrants Monday.

The crash occurred about 2 a.m. July 18, 2008, Largo police Sgt. George Edmiston said.

Motorcyclist John Prado, 21, was headed south on Ridge Road SW with Heather Lynn Cook, 20, on the back. Both wore helmets.

Laier was driving east on Lakeside Drive with Frederick Belanger in Laier's pickup. Laier ran a stop sign, Edmiston said, and Prado had no way to avoid the crash.

Edmiston said Prado's speed was not a factor in the crash.

Prado's red Yamaha crashed into the back of Laier's extended cab pickup, killing him instantly and ejecting Cook.

At the hospital, Cook's leg was amputated. Her current condition was unavailable Monday.

Laier suffered moderate injuries; his passenger minor ones, authorities said.

At Bayfront Medical Center, police drew blood from Laier to determine whether he was driving under the influence.

Edmiston said that at the scene of the crash, cans of Icehouse beer came tumbling out of the pickup onto the street.

Laier's blood alcohol concentration was found to be 0.196 and 0.195, Edmiston said. In Florida, 0.08 is the level at which the law presumes impairment.

Laier left the hospital that night. Two days later — before the tests results had come back — Laier left his home on Lakeside Drive and fled to Illinois, Edmiston said.

He wasn't found until recently, when he was booked into jail in Illinois on a charge of aggravated battery against a woman.

Laier was held Monday at the Pinellas County Jail, his bail set at $55,000.

Jonathan Abel can be reached at or (727) 445-4157.

Fugitive driver is jailed in Largo DUI fatality 02/16/09 [Last modified: Monday, February 16, 2009 8:47pm]
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