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Witnesses track hit-and-run driver in Treasure Island

TREASURE ISLAND — There was no warning. No sound. No hint of the danger as they strolled near the beach.

Then, a black Mercedes, driving south on Gulf Boulevard, suddenly veered off the road and onto the sidewalk, striking two women as they walked, according to Treasure Island police.

George Strus and his wife were driving back from dinner Sunday night when it unfolded right in front of them.

"He hit them right from behind, they had no idea what was coming," Strus said. "There wasn't any skid marks, no noise, nothing. You're walking and all of a sudden someone smokes you at 30 mph, knocking you off the sidewalk like bowling pins.

"There were just bodies flying."

The Mercedes slowed to a crawl, Strus said, like the driver wasn't sure what to do next. Then the driver took off.

What Strus and another Good Samaritan did next, authorities said, helped bring that driver to justice.

• • •

The driver of that black 2001 Mercedes sedan was identified by police as Alyn Lee Towne, 68, of Treasure Island. He was arrested on charges of driving under the influence with serious bodily injury and leaving the scene of an accident with injury.

Treasure Island police Sgt. Jared Swetnich said Towne was driving south on Gulf Boulevard when his vehicle veered onto the sidewalk south of 106th Avenue about 9:20 p.m. Sunday.

Two women from New Hampshire — Nicole Malloy, 31, and Heather Poitras, 34 — were run over, police said. They were with a third woman, but reports don't indicate that she was injured.

Towne kept driving for about two blocks after the crash, police said. But witnesses followed him to a private parking lot, called 911, reported his tag number, blocked his vehicle in, walked him back to the scene of the crash and turned him over to police.

The driver had "bloodshot and watery" eyes and appeared to be swaying after the crash, according to his arrest report. He refused to perform field-sobriety exercises.

But under Florida law he had no choice but to give a blood sample so his blood-alcohol content could be determined. Those results were not released by police, but under state law a driver is considered impaired with a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 or greater.

Towne, of 7650 Bayshore Drive, was released from the Pinellas County Jail on Monday after posting $10,000 bail. State records show it is his first arrest in Florida. A woman at his residence said he was not available for comment.

The injured women were taken to Bayfront Medical Center. One woman suffered a concussion and a broken tailbone, police said. The other suffered an injured left hip and ankle.

But they only spent one night in the hospital. Malloy told the St. Petersburg Times that both were released Monday. But a friend said they would not comment further on the advice of an attorney.

But they did call Strus to let him know they were okay.

"I was just so happy that they weren't paralyzed or dead," he said. "That was great news."

• • •

Strus was the first to help that night. The 39-year-old New Jersey man, here on business, pulled up alongside the victims seconds after the crash. One woman lay facedown on the sidewalk. Another was crying.

"I'm calling 911," he told them. "I'm going to get this guy."

Strus was on the phone with 911 as he drove after the car. He said he found it about a half mile down the beach, in a parking lot. The driver was checking his car for damage, he said. The passenger-side mirror was gone. Strus got out to talk to him.

"You just drove down two girls," Strus told the driver.

"Oh, dear," was the driver's reply, Strus said.

Another witness, who Strus said later identified himself as an off-duty Chicago police officer, pulled up. Strus decided to go back to the crash site. He had already called in the license tag to 911. Police would find the driver again, he figured.

Later, Strus said the off-duty officer told him the driver hadn't wanted to return to the scene.

"He said that the suspect said to him he was going to try to walk away on foot," Strus said. But the off-duty officer told Strus that he wouldn't allow that, telling the driver: "You're not going back anywhere except back to the scene."

Strus said he did everything he did that night for a very simple reason: "I just thought it was the right thing to do. If I had a daughter, I would hope somebody would do that."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Jamal Thalji can be reached at thalji@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8472.

Witnesses track hit-and-run driver in Treasure Island 04/26/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 27, 2010 12:27am]

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