Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Largo woman dead after falling out of truck at Pinellas Park gas station

PINELLAS PARK — Something went wrong outside the Waterin' Trough early Friday morning.

But exactly what happened after a Largo woman was thrown from a truck as it left the country-themed nightclub wasn't clear hours after the accident. Police were eyeing two men who left the area right after the woman died; neither has been charged.

Lauren Gifford was one of three women who rode in the bed of a Ford F150 at about 2:30 a.m. Friday as they left the Waterin' Trough at 12333 66th St. N, police said. The truck's driver, Russell Allan Clark, 24, pulled out of the club's gravel parking lot and apparently sped north on 66th Street.

After driving just a few hundred feet, the truck veered left, cut across the median, and headed toward the parking lot of a Race Trac gas station at the corner of 126th Avenue N. As the truck pulled into the lot, it ran over a curb, jolting the back passengers into the air and sending Gifford, 23, tumbling over the side.

Her head smacked the pavement. She died.

Clark, the two other women and a passenger in the truck's cab, Brett Koepke, 25, got out to check on Gifford after Clark stopped the truck, police said. Clark looked at the dead woman, then ran north.

Koepke hopped in the driver's seat and drove north on 66th Street, leaving the group behind, police said. Clark was seen running after the truck, yelling at Koepke to stop.

Traffic homicide detectives found Clark later Friday morning. They questioned him and took a sample of his blood for testing, police said.

The truck was later found parked in the 7000 block of 46th Avenue N, near Koepke's home, but police didn't find him there.

"We're just looking for him to talk to him to get his statement," said Pinellas Park police Capt. Sanfield Forseth. Authorities still had not found him late Friday.

No one has been charged. Police are awaiting toxicology results.

Both Clark and Koepke have lengthy criminal histories and have spent time in prison, records show.

Clark did four years after 2007 convictions for carjacking, grand theft and burglary, records show. He was released in 2011, but arrested in July 2012 on a charge of leaving an accident scene.

Koepke also was convicted in 2007 of burglary and trafficking in stolen property and served about four years, records show. He was released in 2012.

After the sun set Friday, Gifford's friends and family gathered at her mother's Largo home. Her brother, Matt Hane, greeted visitors as they made their way to the spot where Gifford died.

Hane, 34, spoke of his sister as a simple, outgoing girl with a sarcastic sense of humor. She worked as a desk attendant at a Holiday Inn Express, and enjoyed spending time with her three young nieces.

The family expected scores of friends to attend the vigil, Hane said. "The turnout will show how many friends she really had."

Times news researcher Natalie Watson and staff writers Laura C. Morel and Kameel Stanley contributed to this report.

Largo woman dead after falling out of truck at Pinellas Park gas station 01/18/13 [Last modified: Friday, January 18, 2013 10:52pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. And the most-searched NFL player in Florida is ...


    The Bucs just faced the Jacksonville Jaguars in preseason, and open their 2017 season at the Miami Dolphins. So with the state's NFL competition ahead of and just behind the Bucs, who do you think is the NFL player most searched on Google by Floridians?

    Fans react with excitement moments after the Bucs announce their first-round pick at the team's 2016 NFL draft party. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]
  2. Video captures shark attack on seal at crowded beach


    ORLEANS, Mass. — A shark attack on a seal at a Cape Cod beach sent beachgoers scrambling, and surfers a few yards away had to frantically swim to shore.

    Thayer Wade captured video of  a shark attacking a seal off a Cape Cod beach. His uncle Pat O'Brien shared the video on Twitter.
  3. Florida firefighter spears giant 409-pound grouper in St. Pete Beach competition


    ST. PETERSBURG — It took six sets of hands to drag a 409-pound Warsaw Grouper to the stage.

    James Taylor, a Bradenton firefighter, speared a 409-pound grouper near St. Pete Beach during a competition over the weekend. (Courtesy of Michelle Taylor)
  4. Don't know what to do with those eclipse glasses? Donate them.

    Human Interest

    Those who were able to snag a pair of coveted solar eclipse glasses for Monday's event witnessed a moment in history. But now that the eclipse is over, many are left wondering: What do I do with my …

    Workers pass out eclipse viewing glasses during a solar eclipse party on August 21, 2017 at the Museum of Science and Industry, in Tampa, Fla. Tampa experienced a partial eclipse. [MONICA HERNDON  |  Times]
  5. Treasury secretary's wife boasts of travel on government plane, touts high fashion


    U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin's wife, Louise Linton, boasted of flying on a government plane with her husband to Kentucky on Monday and then named the numerous fashion brands she wore on the trip in an unusual social media post that only became more bizarre minutes later.

    Steven Mnuchin and his then- financee Louise Linton watch as President Donald Trump speaks during Mnuchin's swearing-in ceremony as  treasury secretary in the Oval Office of the White House on Feb. 13. [Mandel Ngan | AFP via Getty Images]