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Horror comes roaring into St. Pete hangout

ST. PETERSBURG — Michelle Brown and Latoya Jackson were sitting in a parked car at Ike's Liquor-Lounge as a large crowd peaceably milled about on a pleasant October night.

Then they heard loud, squealing tires.

Brown and Jackson looked out the rear window at a truck speeding at them. Before they could react, the truck hit a bicyclist, severing his leg. It smashed into the rear of their car, flipped into the air, and dropped in front of them.

The crash instantly killed the bicyclist, Steven Mincey, 49, and injured nine others late Wednesday night.

"It was just a horrific scene," Brown said Thursday.

Thursday afternoon, police arrested Denise Battles, 18, of St. Petersburg on charges of vehicular homicide, leaving the scene of a fatal accident, fleeing and eluding and not having a driver's license. Her bail was $140,000.

The injured included seven bystanders at Ike's, including Brown and Jackson; and two passengers in the truck, Shalunda Jenkins and Lucretia Mullan.

The crash occurred about 11 p.m. Wednesday. Battles was driving a 2008 Dodge Ram pickup north on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street at 22nd Avenue S.

Police said the truck was driving erratically and an officer tried to stop it, but the Dodge sped north. Police did not chase it, a spokesman said.

The truck smashed into Mincey, who was riding his bicycle north on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. Mincey was thrown over the truck and struck a concrete light pole, police said.

The Dodge then slid sideways toward the northwest corner of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St and 13th Avenue S, It struck the curb and flipped, hitting four parked vehicles and several pedestrians.

Brown, a nurse, said she saw the truck go airborne: "It was like somebody just threw the truck in the crowd."

"It was like a movie, like an action movie. Everything happened so fast."

Within minutes, emergency lights flashed and police tape stretched for blocks. More than 100 people gathered. Rumors flew that police chased the truck.

But both passengers in the Dodge said the officer pulled off immediately. They urged Battles to slow down, said police spokesman Bill Proffitt.

Battles fled, showing up at Bayfront Medical Center but leaving without being treated, police said.

Her aunt, Carolyn Booker, 47, said the family urged her to turn herself in to police on Thursday.

Booker said her niece did not graduate high school, but had enrolled in a program for pregnant teenagers and young mothers. Battles' juvenile criminal record includes two battery charges and resisting an officer, records show.

Battles has a baby girl almost a year old, Booker said. Her mother took the child before Battles was arrested, Booker said. She said Battles was hanging out with friends Wednesday night but did not know whose truck she was driving.

Four accident victims were admitted to Bayfront Medical Center. On Thursday, James Lewis was in critical condition; and Clifford Etheridge, Kiwaner Robinson and Mullan were in fair condition. Two others, Jenkins and Johnny Hutchins, were treated and released.

Three others were treated at St. Anthony's Hospital an released: Brown, Jackson and Laura Spradley. All involved are from St. Petersburg.

Mincey was well known at Tony's Meat Market, 1209 Fourth St. S, where he did odd jobs and helped take groceries to customers' cars. Friends said he also worked next door at a coin laundry from early in the morning to late at night, every day.

"He was a nice person, what I used to call a happy-go-lucky person. He never seemed to let anything get next to him," said William Brown, 69, a retiree who said he used to work with Mincey at a bar on 16th Street S.

On Thursday night, a crowd gathered again at Ike's.

Ike McBride said his liquor store was open Wednesday night, but not the bar. He pointed to a for sale sign on his business and said he was ready to get out. Across the street, candles burned at a makeshift memorial.

McBride said he was sitting on the tailgate of his truck in the parking lot a minute before the Dodge careened toward the crowd. The Dodge came to rest on the front of his truck. He was inside making a phone call.

St. Petersburg City Council member Wengay Newton grew up in the area and said it was the worst disaster he could recall.

"I've never seen anything impact so many people at once," said Newton, who visited the injured at Bayfront Medical Center Thursday evening before heading to Ike's.

Less than a block away, Tammy Rogers, 28, sat on her front stoop. She was a close friend of Mincey's. He came over for dinner almost every night and called her every day. His wife had died about two years ago, but the couple had no children after losing one to SIDS and another was stillborn, Rogers said.

On Wednesday night, she heard the crash and saw his body on the ground. On Thursday, she called his phone, hoping in vain that someone would answer.

Horror comes roaring into St. Pete hangout 10/09/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 14, 2008 5:24pm]
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