Sunday, December 17, 2017
Public safety

One dead after speeding car slams into St. Petersburg house

ST. PETERSBURG — As Kelli Brown slept early Tuesday, a car crashed into her porch. She woke to the sound of an explosion and looked outside to see a wall of fire.

"It sounded like a bomb," said Brown, 23. "Like a big bomb."

Police said Tony A. Harshbarger, 49, of Pinellas Park was traveling south and may have reached speeds of 100 mph before his car drifted to the right and hit a bus stop bench and a tree about 4:20 a.m.

The small Nissan sports car rotated, uprooted another tree and split into several pieces. Harshbarger was thrown from the car and pronounced dead at the scene.

The rear portion of the vehicle grazed a window awning and slid through the front of Brown's porch at 34th Avenue N. It also crushed the porch railing, sheared the front of a bush, shattered a window and then slid away from her house, crossing the street before it stopped.

As they slept, a single wall separated Brown and her husband from the flying car.

"I do feel very fortunate that all he hit was the corner of the house and the porch," Brown said.

Onlookers speculated about a police pursuit, but a St. Petersburg Police Department spokesman said the crash happened quickly and that Harshbarger had not been pursued.

A caller reported seeing the car driving south on 49th Street N at a high speed without headlights. Moments later, the car was in pieces.

Harshbarger's driving record shows he was cited for driving under the influence in 1988. In 1989, his license was suspended for six months for the same violation. In 2008, his record shows, he was part of a crash with property damage. In a separate incident that year, he was cited for driving 55 mph in a 35 mph zone.

As she stepped outside in the dark, Brown scanned the debris that littered her yard and the yard next door. Wreckage from the crash covered more than a block of 49th Street N.

"My eyes wandered to every little piece," Brown said.

The twisted remains of a garbage can and bus stop bench marked the start of the destruction, and tire tracks showed more of the path.

Where the car broke apart, smaller pieces and bigger chunks lay in the yard and in the road. A medical examiner used a red plastic bag to collect the victim's remains. It took police nearly five hours to clear the road.

Neighbors who gathered behind police tape said the scene reminded them of other deadly incidents nearby.

In 2009, a 20-year-old St. Petersburg man was killed when the driver of a car he was in lost control near 34th Avenue N and 49th Street, crashing into a law office.

In 2007, a woman was killed and her husband seriously injured after their car went airborne attempting a turn onto 38th Avenue N at a high speed.

Brown heard stories, saw accidents herself and considered the road she lives on as busy and dangerous.

"But nothing like this," she said. "Nothing this bad."

News researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Claire Wiseman can be reached at [email protected] or (727)-893-8804. Follow @clairelwiseman on Twitter.

     
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