Monday, September 24, 2018
Public safety

Driver accused in fatal U.S. 301 crash has DUI convictions, records show

RIVERVIEW — Kerry "Jason" Webb drove his blue Suzuki motorcycle north on U.S. 301, the woman he loved sitting behind him.

They had just left their Riverview home Saturday with plans to meet friends in Pinellas County, according to another friend.

The couple didn’t get far, authorities say, when a man with two prior DUI convictions crossed their path.

Benson C. Johnston tried to turn his 2009 Lexus SUV from southbound 301 onto eastbound Johanna Drive about 9:35 p.m., steering directly into the path of the motorcycle, according to the Florida Highway Patrol. The motorcycle collided with the passenger side of the Lexus and the force of the crash threw Webb and Torrey to the ground.

Webb, 37, died at the scene, and his girlfriend, Angelina "Angel" Torrey, 25, died later at Brandon Regional Hospital, according to the Highway Patrol. The two were raising a teenage girl.

Johnston, 34, ran away from the scene, troopers said. Hillsborough County sheriff’s deputies found him at his home on the 1000 block of St. Charles Boulevard, less than half a mile from the crash, according to the Highway Patrol.

Johnston performed poorly on field sobriety exercises and troopers took a blood sample, said Sgt. Steve Gaskins, a spokesman for the Highway Patrol. The results of the blood test are pending, Gaskins said.

Johnston also submitted breath tests at the Hillsborough County jail that showed his blood alcohol level was .074 and .072, records show. Florida law presumes a driver is impaired at a blood alcohol level of .08. But those tests were given more than five hours after the crash, so investigators suspect the blood sample will provide a more accurate number, Gaskins said.

"He’s obviously someone who has an alcohol problem and has no problem getting behind the wheel, and now he has killed two people," Gaskins said.

• • •

Johnston’s first DUI arrest came in Daytona Beach in 2004, when he was 19, state records show. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six months’ probation and ordered to attend DUI school, records show.

In June 2013, a Hillsborough County sheriff’s deputy found Johnston unresponsive and asleep behind the wheel of a silver Jeep as it sat at the intersection of Falkenburg Road and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard about 4 a.m. on a Saturday, an arrest report says.

Johnston pleaded no contest to DUI, was found guilty and sentenced to 12 months’ probation, records show. He was required to outfit his car with an ignition interlock device for the duration of his probation.

Last November, Johnston was cited for careless driving after he reached down for a bottle on the floor of his Ford pickup truck and rear ended other vehicles stopped for traffic at Balm Riverview Road and Albatross Lane, a citation says.

About a month later, Johnston was arrested in Ybor City and charged with disorderly conduct and possession of controlled substances without a prescription. According to a Tampa police arrest report, Johnston was antagonizing pedestrians near the 1500 block of Seventh Avenue by yelling at them and "approaching them aggressively." The report says he tried to start two fights and got into one physical altercation.

The arresting officer found Johnston in possession of a pill bottle with three alprazolam pills and four temazepam pills, the report says. Both are benzodiazepines that require prescriptions. Court records show that case is still pending.

In 2016, Johnston pleaded no contest to misdemeanor domestic battery. Additional details were not available Monday. But another domestic violence complaint describes him as a man with a volatile temper prone to alcohol abuse.

Last February, Johnston’s estranged wife filed a petition for protection after he reached out saying he wanted to save their marriage. But after a couple of days, "he decided to get wasted on drugs and alcohol" and turned violent the petition said.

Benton threw and smashed things, kicked in doors, and when his estranged wife asked him to leave, he pushed her to the floor and smashed her phone to pieces — all while her three children were home, the petition said.

The court granted the woman a permanent injunction last month, ordering Johnston to stay 500 feet away from her.

• • •

On Sunday, Johnston was booked on two counts of DUI manslaughter and two counts of leaving the scene of a crash involving death, and one count of driving under the influence (third violation). He was being held Monday without bail.

Jail records show he worked as a supervisor at an electrical contracting firm at the time of his arrest.

Webb, the motorcycle driver, recently celebrated 18 years working at Compressed Air Systems, Inc., a Tampa firm that makes and services air compressors and other equipment, said co-owner Ginger Waring. Webb was a diligent worker who most recently oversaw the production of a specialized machine that opens rail car gates, Waring said.

"He was always just that guy who was so happy to be a part of whatever was going on," Waring said.

Webb’s former girlfriend, Cortnie Seals, said he was born and raised in the Tampa area and was the primary caregiver for Seals’ 14-year-old daughter, Keiley. Seals had gotten pregnant near the start of their relationship and Webb raised the girl as if she was his own, Seals said.

"He had a heart of gold," she said.

Torrey, Webb’s girlfriend, worked as a chiropractor’s assistant and had been dating him for about three years, according to Seals.

"She really stepped up into the stepmom role and was great with Keiley," Seals said.

Keiley last saw her father about 6 p.m. Saturday, Seals said through tears. He and Torrey planned to make a quick detour to Plant City on the way to hang out with friends in Clearwater or St. Petersburg, Seals said.

"As a mother, knowing he won’t be here to walk her down the aisle hurts so much," she said.

She called Johnston a coward for running away after the crash.

"This man deserves the maximum possible sentence for every charge."

Times senior news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Tony Marrero at [email protected]

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