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No reason given for driver's plunge into Pithlachascotee River

PORT RICHEY — From the deck at Hooters, diners watch boats drift by on the Pithlachascotee River, listen to the gulls and watch the sunset.

Late Thursday, that tranquil scene exploded when a BMW sport utility vehicle raced along the narrow road on the other side of the river. The SUV left the road and flew so far into the channel it disappeared below the surface.

"There's a car in the water!" a Hooters server cried. The chaos began. Several people rushed outside. They couldn't believe her.

"We were like, 'No it's not,' " said server Chelsey Todd. "But when we saw there was a car in the water we were in shock."

One girl thought a family was trapped inside and started sobbing. Others debated jumping into the water.

Kathleen Laliberte turned onto Sunset Drive before the SUV went under.

"Oh my God!'' she recalled exclaiming.

She was almost home after a shift at St. Mark Village Retirement Community in Palm Harbor. She raced to a nearby marina and yelled.

Call 911!

It was about 5:20 p.m.

A crowd gathered, cameras in hand. This part of the river is known for its restaurants and a casino boat, but this was a different form of entertainment. They hung out until just before 8 p.m. when an A-1 Towing truck lifted the SUV vertically above the water.

Jerell Reshawn Jolly was the driver who had plunged the SUV into the river. Emergency crews fished him out of the water.

In the confusion, as a diver searched until dark to make sure no one else had been in the car, police released what they thought was Jolly's full name. They took him to Community Hospital in New Port Richey under the state's Baker Act because they feared he meant to injure himself.

By Friday, police released a last name, but kept Jolly at the hospital. They didn't offer any theories about why he crashed, or whether it was on purpose.

Jolly, 23, of Tampa, has a long criminal record as a thief. He served nine months at the state prison work camp in Polk County in 2009 for a grand theft conviction in Hillsborough County.

Attempts to reach his family were unsuccessful.

No reason given for driver's plunge into Pithlachascotee River 07/01/11 [Last modified: Friday, October 28, 2011 12:06pm]

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