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Julio Silverwolf, transgender man who made national headlines, dies in crash after jail release

LARGO — A transgender man whose court case made national headlines two years ago died early Wednesday when he stepped into the path of a car on Roosevelt Boulevard.

Julio Silverwolf, born a woman and formerly known as Julia Roach, was pronounced dead at the scene of the 1:45 a.m. crash near St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport.

Silverwolf, 57, of Clearwater had been arrested Tuesday afternoon on a charge of driving under the influence after he was involved in an accident in a parking lot in Clearwater. He was taken to the Pinellas County Jail and released at 12:48 a.m. — roughly an hour before the deadly accident.

According to the Florida Highway Patrol, Silverwolf was standing on the north shoulder of Roosevelt, just west of 46th Street N, and then suddenly stepped into the path of a 2008 Chrysler driven by Susan K. West of Largo.

West was not injured and was not faulted in the crash. She could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

The former Julia Roach was married to Larry Roach for 18 years before they divorced in 2004. She changed her name and underwent gender reassignment surgery sometime after the divorce.

In a March 2007 interview on Larry King Live, Larry Roach said the marriage was "normal" until the end. It was then that Julia began giving herself testosterone shots, lifting weights and shaving her face, Larry Roach said in an October 2007 magazine article.

When the couple divorced, Larry Roach agreed to pay his ex-wife $1,250 a month in alimony. But after she transitioned to a man, he petitioned the court to stop the payments.

"My fight was that my income deduction order was to pay my ex-wife, and this Julio person that was identified as a man, I don't know who that was," Roach said Wednesday. "You can't pay alimony from one man to another."

A circuit judge disagreed in 2007, saying "despite the surgery and the fact that the Respondent holds herself out to be a male, Florida recognizes the immutable female traits determined at birth."

Larry Roach initially filed an appeal but later dropped it because, he said, his attorney advised him he could not win the case and the legal fees were mounting.

Roach said he heard about the accident from a co-worker Wednesday morning and had "mixed emotions" about it.

"I really didn't know how to feel because I'd been married to that person for so long, then turned around, and I got the alimony for life, and I worked my whole life for my retirement and my pension and the court says 'No, you cant have it,' " he said, adding: "I'm saddened that she was so troubled."

Court records show that Silverwolf, still Roach at the time, had a previous DUI arrest in Pinellas County in 2004. She was found guilty and received a year of probation.

In 2006, Silverwolf was arrested on a charge of aggravated assault after he was accused of threatening a woman with an aluminum baseball bat. That charge was later dropped.

Silverwolf formerly bred show cats and miniature schnauzers, according to a 1996 St. Petersburg Times article.

Friend Ed Smith of Clearwater said he met Silverwolf after his now-deceased in-laws bought some dogs from Silverwolf.

Smith, 54, said he and his wife were devastated by the news of their friend's death.

"Had you met the guy, regardless of any of his issues going on, he was a genuinely nice person," Smith said. "He had a good heart."

Smith said his friend had been despondent lately over financial issues, was taking medication for depression and had previously mentioned suicide.

But Smith said he wondered whether Silverwolf was still impaired when he left the jail and whether that may have contributed to his death. Silverwolf listed Smith and his wife as next of kin, and a trooper came to their door Wednesday morning with the news of his death. The trooper also gave the Smiths the possessions Silverwolf had on him at the time of his death: a wallet, an earring, a key, a watch and 39 cents, Smith said.

"Basically, he was let go and turned loose out the door with his possessions and 39 cents to make his way home on," Smith said. "I know we don't call prisoners a limo and escort them home. I'm realistic, … but he should have never been let out of jail on ROR (release on own recognizance)."

Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Marianne Pasha said Florida law requires that anyone arrested for DUI is held for at least eight hours. Silverwolf was released eight and a half hours after his arrest.

Jail staff has the power to retain a person longer if he or she continues to show signs of impairment, Pasha said.

"That was not an issue here," Pasha said.

Smith said it was difficult to accept that he may never know what happened in the last hours of his good friend's life.

"Julio was probably being ravaged in his mind and maybe he's at peace now," Smith said. "Regardless how he died, how it happened — on accident, on purpose — none of us will ever know. It's horrible."

Rita Farlow can be reached at farlow@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4157.

Julio Silverwolf, transgender man who made national headlines, dies in crash after jail release 05/13/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 13, 2009 9:26pm]
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