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Largo man charged in fatal February crash on Tampa highway

TAMPA — He proposed to her, and they went out dancing to celebrate with friends and family that night.

Just a few hours later, the ring was still on her finger when she was ejected from the car he was driving. He ran away, and she died at the hospital.

On Wednesday, Manuel Barron Rosas, 28, of Largo was arrested on a warrant filed in late July. He has been charged with DUI manslaughter in the Feb. 28 death of 35-year-old Leticia Benitez-Gutierrez.

Rosas lost control of his fiancee's 1998 Pontiac Firebird just before 3 a.m. and crashed into a guardrail on Interstate 275 in Tampa, according to the Florida Highway Patrol. Benitez-Gutierrez was not wearing a seat belt, investigators said.

Rosas was identified by other passengers in the car before he took off, Highway Patrol officials said. He was eventually extradited from Los Angeles.

For Benitez-Gutierrez's family, the last few months have been difficult. She left behind two daughters, ages 17 and 19, and two sons, 13 and 8, who now live with their maternal grandmother.

Her younger daughter, who saw the crash from another car, is depressed and talks about suicide, said Ana Benitez, Benitez-Gutierrez's younger sister.

Benitez, 35, said her 8-year-old nephew often has nightmares. Two nights ago, he woke up and searched for his mother.

She said her sister had dated Rosas for a few months. Her family did not approve of him.

"He was a crazy guy," Benitez said. "He drank a lot."

Rosas has also been charged with violating a license restriction. He had a license for business purposes, meaning he was supposed to drive only to and from work.

His history includes a charge of driving under the influence with property damage in Pinellas County in 2006. In that case, he also was charged with leaving a crash scene before police arrived.

He has been cited for careless driving, driving without a license and driving with a suspended or revoked license. In March 2007 he was deemed a habitual traffic offender but got limited driving privileges re­instated in September 2009.

In the February case, Rosas' blood alcohol level was over the level that assumes impairment, said Highway Patrol Sgt. Larry Kraus. He didn't specify the level.

For now, Benitez-Gutierrez's family members have what they wanted — Rosas' arrest. Benitez said she always thought he was a bad influence on her sister.

"I think she fell in love with him," Benitez said in Spanish. "Her wings were clipped too soon."

Times staff writers Alexandra Zayas and Jessica Vander Velde and researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Nandini Jayakrishna can be reached at (813) 661-2441 or njayakrishna@sptimes.com.

Largo man charged in fatal February crash on Tampa highway 09/09/10 [Last modified: Friday, September 10, 2010 12:45am]

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