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Suspect in fatal hit-run says he ran for his life

DADE CITY — The man accused of a fatal hit and run told the Florida Highway Patrol he feared for his life when he sped away with the victim clinging to his truck, according to a report released Thursday.

Grady Daniel Yager, 37, was arrested Wednesday and charged with leaving the scene of an accident involving death.

FHP investigators believe Yager dragged and then ran over 56-year-old Eugene Austin Pickett on July 31 on Mosstown Road, east of Trilby. Pickett later died from his injuries at Pasco Regional Hospital in Dade City.

An anonymous tip led FHP to Yager's Ridge Manor home Wednesday, where they found a truck that matched the suspect vehicle.

Yager's green Toyota pickup had two handprints on his driver side door, according to the arrest report. One print appeared to drag along the side of the truck.

According to the arrest report, this is what Yager told the FHP:

He was heading west on Mosstown Road when he saw a man he thought he recognized. Yager slowed his vehicle and the man, Pickett, approached his truck.

But Yager didn't know Pickett, and said he became scared when the stranger reached his hands through the window.

He drove on in first gear, while Pickett dangled from the window.

Yager didn't look back after Pickett let go.

He told FHP he didn't think he had run over the man.

Part of the reason for his lessened charges — leaving the scene of an accident vs. vehicular manslaughter — was because the patrol believed an altercation occurred between the two men.

"We could only charge him with what we knew we could prove," said Highway Patrol Sgt. Steve Gaskins.

Yager is at the Land O'Lakes Jail in lieu of $10,000 bail.

His family did not wish to speak to a reporter Thursday.

In 1994, Yager was convicted on grand theft charges. He pleaded guilty to similar charges in 2003 and was sentenced to three years of probation, according to state records.

After several traffic violations, including citations for not wearing a seat belt and multiple counts of driving without a valid license, Yager had his license revoked for five years in 1993, state records show. He was labeled a habitual traffic offender at the time.

Pickett, the victim, also had a lengthy arrest record.

He spent a good chunk of his life behind bars. Most recently, he served 13 years for carrying a concealed weapon, armed burglary and intimidation, according to state records.

His family could not be reached Thursday.

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Helen Anne Travis can be reached at htravis@sptimes.com or (352) 521-6518.

Suspect in fatal hit-run says he ran for his life 08/07/08 [Last modified: Friday, August 8, 2008 8:29pm]
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