Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Driver's seizure history could lead to charges in fatal Tampa crash

Two people were killed Friday in Tampa when the vehicle driven by Eric Dewayne McNeil, 42, slammed into their minivan after he may have suffered a seizure. Police are still investigating.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

Two people were killed Friday in Tampa when the vehicle driven by Eric Dewayne McNeil, 42, slammed into their minivan after he may have suffered a seizure. Police are still investigating.

TAMPA — Police call it a tragedy, but was it also a crime?

Dozens of people have seizures while driving each year, causing collisions. When they end in death, authorities pull medical records and interview witnesses.

Sometimes a driver goes to jail. Sometimes charges aren't filed.

Police are still investigating whether Eric Dewayne McNeil, 42, suffered a seizure Friday when, they say, he lost consciousness, ran a red light and slammed into a minivan, killing a Tampa couple and injuring their 3-year-old granddaughter.

McNeil's sister says he has suffered occasional seizures for years and a medical issue of some sort prompted the state to monitor McNeil for three years, starting in 2007, and to temporarily revoke his license in 2008.

If he did suffer a seizure before the crash, prosecutors will likely ask two questions, said Tampa lawyer and public health professor Jay Wolfson: Was he aware of his medical issue? And was a seizure-caused crash foreseeable?

"If you know you have a problem that could reoccur, then you're knowingly placing people at risk," said Wolfson, who teaches at Stetson College of Law and the University of South Florida.

The classic "accident" situation is the unexpected heart attack while driving. But seizure cases can be more complicated.

Two years ago, a Seminole teen had a seizure behind the wheel. One minute Kyle Figler was driving out of a Wendy's parking lot. The next thing he knew, he was in the hospital. Police say he hit and killed a pedestrian.

He was never charged.

Seven years earlier, a Tampa man's doctor told him he shouldn't drive but the man got behind the wheel anyway. Emilio Santacruz had a seizure and careened into a South Tampa real estate office, killing an agent.

He was convicted of vehicular homicide was sentenced to six months in jail and 14 years of probation.

Why the vast difference?

Figler didn't have a long history of seizures, according to the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office. Prosecutors confirmed only one previous seizure, which happened when Figler was booked in jail on a drug charge, said Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett.

And Figler had never been advised that he shouldn't drive, Bartlett said.

The teen's driving the night of March 12, 2009, up until he had the seizure, appeared normal according to his passenger, Bartlett said.

"From a criminal standpoint, you have to have a pretty well-documented history of seizures and an indication that he knew — or should have known — he shouldn't be running that motor vehicle," Bartlett said.

That's for criminal charges. It doesn't stop a civil lawsuit. The family of the pedestrian who was killed, Zachary Paul Baker of Largo, has filed a negligent death suit against Figler.

On the other hand, Santacruz had a documented history of seizures, according to Hillsborough County prosecutors. And a doctor had made it clear to him that he should not be driving.

Yet he got behind the wheel of a pickup on Oct. 18, 2002.

He had a seizure, crashed through the wall of Bob Hatton Prudential Realty in South Tampa and hit 79-year-old Angie Talty, killing her.

Santacruz was charged with manslaughter by culpable negligence and vehicular homicide. The manslaughter charge was dropped and he was sentenced to six months in jail for vehicular homicide.

In the end, each crash has to be approached individually, said Wolfson, the professor. One person's seizures might be completely different than another's — caused by different factors, helped by different medicines.

Sometimes prescriptions can control neurological issues, making it safe to drive. Sometimes a person who suffered seizures is cleared by a physician, he said.

It's unclear if any of this was at play in McNeil's case because his medical records are protected by privacy laws. He has been unreachable since the crash. His wife has declined comment.

"But the bottom line will be whether he had awareness and knowledge," Wolfson said. "You have to know that you're doing something."

Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3433.

Reporting a driver

In Florida, no one is required to report a bad driver. However, the state has some safeguards. Everyone is required to provide accurate medical information in the application for a driver's license. And a form is available online at www.flhsmv.gov/forms/72190.pdf to report an unsafe driver.

Many law enforcement crash reports can indicate if authorities believe the state should re-examine a driver. These reports are sent to the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

Doctors are not required to report driving concerns they have about patients, but are welcome to use the public form. Also, the department sometimes tells drivers of concern that they must submit a physician review.

That form for the physician asks questions about blackouts, seizures, memory, diabetes, heart health, visual acuity and drug use. The doctor is asked to recommend whether the patient can drive safely. It is considered by the Medical Review Section, which decides if a license should be revoked.

Driver's seizure history could lead to charges in fatal Tampa crash 10/26/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 26, 2011 11:22pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. After offseason of work hard, play hard, DeSean Jackson ready to produce for Bucs

    Bucs

    TAMPA — There's no telling what DeSean Jackson will do once he gets a football in his hands. Perhaps that's why a camera crew followed his every move Wednesday while the Bucs' new $30 million receiver stood on a step of the hot tub that empties into a spacious, azure pool at his new, sprawling five-bedroom home in …

    DeSean Jackson jokes around with girlfriend Kayla Phillips at their Tampa home as a crew from HBO’s Hard Knocks documents their day.
  2. Trump announces $10 billion Foxconn plant in Wisconsin

    Politics

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Wednesday that electronics giant Foxconn will build a $10 billion factory in Wisconsin that's expected to initially create 3,000 jobs, the largest economic development project in state history.

    President Donald Trump embraces Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in the East Room of the White House during an announcement Wednesday that Foxconn is going to build a plant in Wisconsin.
  3. Playoff chase heats up for Rays with critical series at Yankees up first

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG

    It was important that Evan Longoria crushed a two-run homer in the sixth inning Wednesday and Steven Souza Jr. blasted a solo shot off the farthest catwalk an inning later.

    Adeiny Hechavarria (11) and Tim Beckham (1) celebrate the double play to end the top of the sixth inning. [WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times]
  4. Conservatives come to Sessions' defense amid Trump attacks

    Politics

    WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans and influential conservatives rallied around Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Wednesday as President Donald Trump kept up his public pelting of the nation's top law enforcement officer and left his future in doubt.

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions
  5. Jones: Alex Cobb proves again why he's Rays' stopper, no matter how long he's here (w/ video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG

    If a team hopes to hang around the pennant race, it better have an ace. A stopper. A pitcher it can count on every fifth day to stop the bleeding, keep a winning streak going or flat-out win a game that a team flat-out needs to win.

    Rays starting pitcher Alex Cobb (53) throwing the first inning. [WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times]