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Driver who killed two pedestrians in 1997 crash faces new DUI charge

NEW PORT RICHEY — One morning more than a decade ago, Shane Luepkes crashed into two pedestrians on State Road 54, killing them both, and then drove away.

He already had one DUI on his record. Family members of the victims suspected Luepkes fled the Dec. 6, 1997 crash because he was under the influence again. He turned himself in to authorities five days later and ultimately pleaded no contest to leaving the scene of a fatal crash.

His plea kept him out of prison — he was sentenced to a year of weekends in jail and a long probation. In court, he told the victims' relatives, "I'm very, very sorry for this tragedy. It eats me up on a daily basis."

But a few weekends ago, authorities say, Luepkes drove drunk again.

According to a Florida Highway Patrol report, Luepkes crashed into a wooden power pole and two newspaper boxes on Rancho del Rio Drive and Via Segovia about 1 a.m. April 26. The trooper noted that Luepkes, 42, smelled of alcohol and swayed where he stood. He was arrested on a DUI charge. He refused a Breathalyzer test.

Luepkes, who lives in Trinity, has entered a not guilty plea. He could not be reached Thursday.

His latest arrest caught the attention of Cathy Markle, whose sister Maryann Fawcett died in the street nearly 13 years ago. Fawcett, 24, was walking home from a convenience store with her friend John Balazs Jr. when they were struck about 2 a.m. Luepkes told authorities he was talking on a cell phone and didn't realize he'd hit anyone.

At first, Markle said Thursday, she saw the new charge as a positive thing because a new DUI would mean Luepkes had violated his probation and exposed himself again to prison time.

Then she learned this: His 15-year probation was terminated early in 2006.

Most defendants are eligible for early termination at the halfway point of their probation if they have paid all their fines and fees and met other conditions.

"I am absolutely floored," said Markle, 55, who lives in New Port Richey.

She said prosecutors didn't notify her or her siblings of the probation hearing.

"It's like a whole process got missed here," she said.

Luepkes is the stepson of Peter Altman, a former New Port Richey mayor and county commissioner.

Luepkes' older brother, Landon, is currently serving time in prison for a similar crime.

Authorities said Landon Luepkes had been drinking all day on May 8, 2002, and was driving home from a video store in a friend's pickup when he struck and killed 45-year-old Dawn Haywood as she tried to walk across U.S. 19 near Gulf Drive. He kept going.

Investigators linked him to the crime by matching blood and tissue from the truck to Haywood's DNA. But before police could arrest him, Landon Luepkes had disappeared. He remained under the radar for six years until a deputy encountered him in September 2007 on a mountain in Virginia. He was charged with leaving the scene and DUI manslaughter, but the latter charge was dropped because a witness who could testify about his drinking that day had died.

He pleaded guilty last November and was sentenced to five years in prison.

Markle says she plans to be at all of Shane Luepkes' upcoming court dates. In his new case she's not a victim, per se, but she still wants justice for her sister.

"I know she's been gone for 12 years, but I don't care," Markle said.

Molly Moorhead can be reached at moorhead@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6245.

Driver who killed two pedestrians in 1997 crash faces new DUI charge 05/14/09 [Last modified: Thursday, May 14, 2009 9:01pm]
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