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Jury convicts Pasco driver in DUI death of couple

NEW PORT RICHEY — A Pasco County jury on Saturday convicted Shannon Stephen of two counts of DUI manslaughter and leaving the scene of an accident involving death.

Stephen, 38, of Holiday, faces up to 45 years in prison.

After a night of drinking on March 26, 2006, Stephen hit Joseph Swiech and his fiancee, Sarah Gleason, as they walked along Grand Boulevard in New Port Richey. Then he drove off.

Swiech, 26, died instantly. Gleason, 24, was taken to a hospital, where she later died.

No one could identify Stephen as the truck's driver when the couple was struck. But friends he had been drinking with testified that he became belligerent and insisted on driving himself. And the jury heard from witnesses who saw him right after the crash — friends of the victims, who said they pulled a staggering, drunken Stephen from the driver's seat of his damaged truck about a mile from where the couple was hit.

Hours after the crash, authorities said, Stephen's blood-alcohol level measured three times the threshold at which the law presumes impairment.

At trial, defense attorney Kenneth Foote said the state's case was full of reasonable doubt, and told jurors that no one saw his client behind the wheel that night.

"There's no evidence that he was driving that vehicle," Foote said.

The more likely culprit, Foote said, was Stephen's friend, Jim Wallace, who called his wife at the same time as the crash and left a voice message saying, "Something happened. You need to call me."

Foote said Wallace made a total of 14 calls that night.

"That's a coincidence?" Foote told the jury. "That's what the state wants you to believe."

Stephen, he said, made no calls that night.

The state presented evidence from cell phone towers indicating Wallace was at home when he called his wife and then went to the crash scene to check on his friend.

Stephen's 2008 trial in the case ended with a deadlocked jury.

Jury convicts Pasco driver in DUI death of couple 05/29/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 1, 2010 10:41am]
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