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Investigator hopeful that witness to fatal deputy crash will emerge

TAMPA — The skid marks have been measured, the position of each vehicle mapped out, but all the forensics evidence in the world can't determine who ran the red light in the Tuesday morning accident that killed Deputy Mark Longway.

As of late Wednesday afternoon, detectives hadn't found anyone who saw the 5:18 a.m. crash. Nor had they found a video recording.

Still, traffic homicide supervisor Michael Cherup Jr. has hope. Out of 400-plus traffic fatalities in the past five years, he can think of only two instances where detectives never determined who ran the red light.

"There are witnesses out there," Cherup said. "The trouble is finding them."

The other driver in the collision, a semitrailer truck driver, told deputies that he had the green light, but the Sheriff's Office wants another source. So, at 4:30 a.m. Wednesday, detectives drove to the intersection of Florida Avenue and Scott Street and talked to people nearby, Cherup said.

They figure that certain people — whether homeless adults, joggers or commuters — probably travel through the area at about the same time each morning.

The investigators didn't find any witnesses Wednesday, Cherup said, but they have other creative methods.

The first case that comes to his mind is a 2006 crash in Brandon where two cars collided, killing several members of a bride's family. It was unclear for a while who ran the red light, but exactly one week — to the day and hour — after the crash, detectives went to the intersection and stopped every car.

That day, detectives found a witness. Kenneth Delmar Stewart eventually pleaded guilty to driving under the influence manslaughter.

When it comes to video, detectives sometimes find surveillance cameras nearby. They've even pulled pictures from automatic teller machines. Some machines snap photos every few seconds, and one time, detectives were able to obtain a video that showed a pedestrian fall down in the street and get hit by a vehicle, Cherup said.

"We sometimes find, in the strangest places, cameras recording," Cherup said at the scene Tuesday.

While they work to track down witnesses and video, the detectives continue to gather and analyze forensics evidence.

Tuesday morning, they used survey equipment to measure the exact position of each skid mark and dip in the roadway.

They also pulled the cruiser's "event data recorder," which is much like an airplane's black box. Cherup declined to discuss what they found on the device because the case is still under investigation.

Still, all that information won't be able to determine who was at fault.

"We can't forensically determine what the light was," Cherup said. "Unless you start spending the money to start recording each intersection, we have to have a witness."

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3433.

Did you see the crash?

Investigators are asking witnesses call the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office at (813) 247-8200.

Investigator hopeful that witness to fatal deputy crash will emerge 09/22/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 22, 2010 11:15pm]
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