TAMPA — A black Mustang that fatally hit a young mother and her toddler daughter as they crossed Bayshore Boulevard last week hit 102 mph, then began braking hard before impact, according to an arrest warrant obtained Thursday by the Tampa Bay Times.
The warrant is the first publicly released document to include the top estimated speed of the car that police say hit and killed Jessica Raubenolt, 24, and her 21-month-old daughter, Lillia, as they legally crossed the scenic road just before noon on May 23.
Witnesses have told police they saw teen drivers in the 2018 Mustang and in a gold Nissan Altima racing down Bayshore that clear morning, weaving through traffic, sometimes driving parallel and sometimes taking turns in front. Onlookers watched in horror as the Mustang hit Raubenolt, sending her and Lillia’s stroller flying.
Police arrested Cameron Herrin, 18, who they named as the driver of the Mustang, and his brother Tristan, 20, his passenger. They also arrested John Barrineau, 17, who they said was behind the wheel of the Altima. All three live less than a mile from the crash site.
Witness Stephanie Kay Ives told police she was driving north on Bayshore at about 40 mph — the posted speed limit at the time — when the cars sped past her with the Nissan in the lead.
"When asked if the vehicle appeared to be racing, she stated to the effect that if not racing, they were certainly in a speed contest," the warrant states.
Another witness, Robert Brooklyn, said he estimated the Mustang and Nissan sped past him at about 60 mph, then rapidly accelerated, exhaust roaring from the Mustang. The muscle car was in front when, Brooklyn said, he saw Raubenolt’s body thrown into the air.
Brooklyn told police he was "100 percent certain the two vehicles were racing."
Now electronic evidence taken from the Mustang during a police search shows the car hit 102 mph before Cameron Herrin braked, according to the warrant.
The car is built for speed. The 2018 Mustang GT’s 5-liter V8 engine has 460 horsepower and 420 lb.-ft. of torque, according to the Ford website, which calls it "a legendary engine revamped to give you maximum power." Road and Track magazine said that, given certain specs, the car can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in as little as 4 seconds.
The Mustang also houses an event data recorder, which stores the car’s speed pre- and post-impact, as well as other data, such as velocity change readings and engine RPM.
Stephen Romine, a local criminal defense attorney with experience in traffic cases, cautioned that while these so-called "black boxes’’ may be accurate, they are not infallible.
"Speed calculations are often the centerpiece of contention in these cases," he said, and like any machines, errors can crop up. It often comes down to expert testimony.
"Generally, nothing is definitive in the sense that nothing is beyond the possibility that it could be wrong, including black boxes," Romine said.
He said he didn’t know enough about the Bayshore crash to comment on it. But in a case this high-profile, a speed so high will likely weigh heavily in the court of public opinion.
"From a public perspective, the higher the speed is above the speed limit, the more difficult it makes the case," Romine said.
The Hillsborough state attorney’s office will likely aim high then try to cut a plea deal with the drivers, said Charles Rose, a law professor at Stetson University College of Law. They could be looking at charges of negligent homicide or involuntary manslaughter, Rose said.
"This is going to be a hard one for the defense," he said. "It would take something to get them out of the trouble that they are currently in. It would take something that is not immediately identifiable from what’s in the public knowledge."
Jim Harris, an expert in reconstructing traffic accidents, said that at the Mustang’s top speed of 102 mph, it was traveling almost half a football field per second.
"That gives you some clue of what you’re really doing at that rate," he said.
With modern braking systems, he estimated the car could come to a full stop from that speed within about 385 feet. But Harris said plenty of factors can affect reaction time. The faster a driver accelerates the more tunnel vision he has, while side-to-side vision diminishes. Then add in buildings, people and swerving cars, and it’s difficult to judge how quickly a driver can react.
"You couldn’t process the things going by you at those speeds," Harris said. "The faster you go, the more focused you become to the center of your vision field."
After the crash, the young men stayed at the scene, where their families gathered and police took them into custody. Police seized the Mustang as well. It’s registered in Cameron Herrin’s mother’s name.
Cameron Herrin and Barrineau, who had both graduated from Tampa Catholic High School just days before, each face two counts of vehicular homicide and street racing. Tristan Herrin, a 2016 graduate, faces a misdemeanor charge of racing. All three posted bail. None have a prior criminal record.
Reached Thursday, Cameron Herrin’s attorney John Fitzgibbons declined to comment on the speed report.
Last weekend, Fitzgibbons asked Circuit Court Judge Art McNeil to allow his client to drive to college classes when released, a request the judge roundly rejected.
"My client Cameron is a nice kid," Fitzgibbons told reporters that day. "He’s never been in any trouble whatsoever. He just graduated from high school Monday night. He is a kid any parent would be proud to have."
Cameron Herrin may not drive until allowed by a court order. He surrendered his passport and must wear a GPS monitoring bracelet. He’s forbidden from contacting Barrineau or leaving the county without court permission.
Beyond criticism of the young drivers, the crash has ignited discussion among civic leaders and residents about safety on Bayshore Boulevard. Already the speed limit has been lowered to 35 mph, and people have floated ideas such as narrower lanes and more pedestrian crossings.
Daily traffic varies, but Bayshore Boulevard sees perennially heavy traffic. Up to 43,000 vehicles per day pass its busiest stretch, near West Platt Street. Jean Duncan, the city’s director of transportation, said the city most recently studied speed along the entire corridor in 2012. On average, most drivers operated between 44 to 47 mph.
There are outliers, such as the speeding motorcycle that hit and killed a jogger on the boulevard in 2004. Last week’s deaths marked the first fatalities on Bayshore Boulevard in a decade.
Raubenolt, who was visiting with her family from Ohio, had stepped out into the sunny morning last Wednesday for a walk along the water after days of rain. She and Lillia were heading back toward Raubenolt’s uncle’s home when they were hit.
Mourners have built a memorial at the crash site, piling wreaths and bouquets and candles near the edge of the road.
Contact Claire McNeill at (727) 893-8321 or [email protected]