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Fugitive wanted in Tennessee DUI death arrested in Holiday

Katherine Pomy had heard rumors that Jason Wood Wright was somewhere in Florida.

A grand jury had twice indicted Wright for the 2000 crash that killed Pomy's 20-year-old son and another stranger on the Tennessee highway. But Wright had outrun authorities, taking justice and closure with him.

Then last week came a phone call: Wright, now 27, had been arrested in Holiday after a chance encounter with a Pasco sheriff's deputy.

"It's great news," said Pomy, 51, of Dickson, Tenn., "and something that I've been waiting for for a long time."

• • •

Pomy's son was named David Scott Hall, but everyone knew him as Scott. He loved video games and sports. He earned a black belt in karate when he was 10.

He was 17 when his parents divorced, and lived in Fairview, about 40 minutes west of Nashville, with his mother and younger brother.

Hall made the varsity baseball team as a freshman at Fairview High School, where he played first baseman and catcher. There he befriended shortstop and pitcher Chris Hulsey, whose family life had become so tumultuous that he ended up moving in with Hall.

In no time, the two became like brothers, sharing a bedroom and chatting each night before bed.

"After about two weeks," Hulsey said, "it felt like this was the family I should have been with the whole time."

After high school, Hall and Hulsey got an apartment in Fairview. Hall worked odd jobs and planned to head to college to play baseball.

But on Jan. 5, 2000, those plans were destroyed along a narrow stretch of State Road 100 in Tennessee.

• • •

That night, the Sugar Bowl was on TV. Hulsey was at the apartment, rooting for Florida State. Hall cheered for Virginia Tech at a friend's house.

"We kept in contact on cell phones," Hulsey recalled. "We'd call and say, 'Did you see that?' "

Hulsey ribbed Hall about the Seminoles' victory. Then Hall headed to a party, and Hulsey to bed.

About 5:30 a.m., Hulsey's phone rang. Hall had been in a bad accident.

Hall was in a silver Chevy Camaro with Jason Wright, then 18, when their car crossed the center line and collided head-on with Margie Green, 48.

Green died at the scene.

Wright and Hall were rushed to a local hospital. Wright was treated and released. Hall died from his injuries.

"He had massive internal bleeding, the surgeon told us," said Bill Pomy, 58, Hall's stepfather. "He was thrown from the car."

Wright told authorities that Hall had been driving. But a district attorney told Hall's family that the pattern of blood spatter in the Camaro indicated Wright was in the driver's seat.

"We've lost our son, and he was accused of something he didn't do," said David Hall, 59, of Nashville, Hall's biological father. "And Jason Wright's been on the run."

• • •

Why Wright wasn't held by authorities in Nashville after the accident remains unclear.

A year after the wreck, the chief investigator on the case was deployed to Iraq, said Mike Browning, spokesman for the Tennessee Highway Patrol.

After the investigator left?

"Someone else handled the case," Browning said. "Or, it didn't get handled."

Then in April 2002, after the Highway Patrol finished its investigation, Wright was indicted and arrested on two charges of DUI vehicular manslaughter and tampering with evidence.

Wright "likely bonded out and was on bond when he disappeared," said Kim Helper, district attorney in Williamson County, where the accident occurred.

Meanwhile, Helper said, the case was by dismissed by a grand jury while the Highway Patrol investigator was overseas. The case was presented to another grand jury in 2003, she said, and new indictments were issued.

By then, Wright was nowhere to be found.

"Sometimes, you get someone who is able to fly under the radar," Helper said. "That seems to be what happened with Mr. Wright."

• • •

For the past few years, Wright lived in a cul-de-sac on Covington Drive in Holiday, about 740 miles from Fairview.

In Florida, Wright continued to rack up driving violations, but his status as a wanted fugitive never came to light. By 2007, Clearwater police charged him with his third offense of driving with his license suspended or revoked, records show.

His license had been suspended nine times, records show.

Caren Calderon and her husband rented the Holiday home to Wright and his girlfriend. They said Wright worked as a landscaper.

He told the couple about his troubles in Tennessee, saying he was saving money to hire an attorney.

"I think he's a nice guy," Calderon said. "He said he wasn't driving the car. I'm almost sad he got arrested."

• • •

The end to Wright's six-year stint as a fugitive came almost by accident, when a deputy knocked on his door about 6 p.m. May 31 to see if the neighbors had seen anything suspicious after a burglary next door.

"They said, 'No,' but they started asking questions like, 'Do you have suspects, and was there evidence left at the scene?' " recalled Deputy Marshall DeBerry. "Things I generally experience not to be common questions."

DeBerry went to his patrol car and ran the tags of the vehicles in Wright's driveway.

One tag was from Tennessee, but wasn't assigned to the vehicle it was attached to. Wright's name wasn't assigned to either vehicle.

DeBerry went back to the house and told Wright and his girlfriend they couldn't drive the vehicles on Florida roads with bad tags. Then he asked them for identification.

DeBerry ran their names through a national crime database on his laptop. Up popped the warrant for Wright's DUI vehicular manslaughter charges in Tennessee.

The deputy called for backup and arrested Wright.

"He said, 'That Tennessee thing again?' " DeBerry recalled. "He felt the system was doing him wrong."

• • •

Wright is now at the Land O'Lakes jail, labeled a fugitive from justice. He is being held without bond. Officials are working on extraditing him back to Tennessee.

Bill Pomy still feels the loss of his stepson and of Margie Green, the woman in the other car.

Pomy said he always wondered where Wright was. He called his family's pain over the years "an open wound."

"We always believed Scott wasn't the driver," Pomy said. "We never got closure. Perhaps, this is that."

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Camille C. Spencer can be reached at cspencer@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4609.

Fugitive wanted in Tennessee DUI death arrested in Holiday 06/06/09 [Last modified: Saturday, June 6, 2009 1:29pm]
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