Police: Man who shot himself while driving crashes into New Port Richey home

NEW PORT RICHEY

He was asleep in bed with his wife and dogs and didn't hear anything until he felt something hit his spine. Then it was like a storm on top of him; thunder, rubble and cinder blocks raining down. Jeff Dal Pezzo thought it was a tornado. He instinctively wrapped his body around his wife. He felt their bed being pushed across the tile floor, crunching against the wall. Then whatever it was kept coming, pushing him into his wife, his wife into the wall. Their basset hound was pinned in a corner.

Then it stopped.

Dal Pezzo, 27, opened his eyes. It was 4:30 a.m. Friday, hours before dawn, but it was bright in his room. As he woke up he realized there was a pickup on top of him:

A truck in his bedroom, headlights on, engine running.

Inside his house.

There was just enough room for his wife to wiggle out. Then Dal Pezzo worked himself free.

"Are you okay?" he asked his wife.

"Yes," said Melissa Krpal, 28. "Are you okay?"

"Yes," Dal Pezzo said.

They checked on the dogs. Two were fine. They couldn't reach the basset hound, Gir, which was wedged in a corner. He was stuck, but appeared unharmed.

Then Dal Pezzo turned toward the truck, a 2005 GMC Sierra with an extended cab. Nearly all of the cab was plunged into the bedroom. Dal Pezzo couldn't see a driver. He climbed over the bed, over the cinder blocks, over boxes he and his wife still hadn't had time to unpack since they moved to the house on Greenwood Street a few months ago. He opened the driver's side door. He saw a man slumped, face down on the seat.

Dal Pezzo backed away and called 911.

He thought it was a drunken driver.

But it turned out to be something much more bizarre.

The driver was Dallas Hatfield, a 56-year-old landlord who lived a mile away on Allamanda Drive.

A cousin said Hatfield had been suicidal in the past and had been acting strangely recently.

On Friday morning, New Port Richey police say, Hatfield decided to kill himself by shooting himself in the head while he was driving his truck, which then careened into the young couple's home.

Hatfield and the couple did not know each other.

Lt. James Steffens of the New Port Richey Police Department said Dal Pezzo and Krpal were inches away from dying Friday.

"They're very, very lucky," Steffens said.

Steffens said the medical examiner will determine the official cause of death. He said the investigation continues.

"As to why this event took place — I don't have an answer for that at this time," he said.

Hatfield's cousin, Christopher Hankins, 54, said he is surprised at how Hatfield chose to end his life. He said his cousin battled depression and addiction for years and had attempted suicide previously. But to die this way — his disregard for others was baffling, Hankins said.

"He wouldn't want to hurt anybody but himself," Hankins said.

Hankins said his cousin was gentle and generous. He said he was never married and had no children. He said Hatfield grew up in Pasco County and graduated from Gulf High School. Hankins had been living with him. He felt guilty Friday that he hadn't been able to help his cousin.

"I'm going to be wondering about this for the rest of my life," Hankins said.

Dal Pezzo and Krpal were examined at a hospital Friday for injuries. Dal Pezzo said the doctors told them they were lucky to be alive and to come away from this without serious injury. Both are sore, achy, cut and bruised. Dal Pezzo's back felt like it was on fire. But no broken bones. A firefighter rescued their dog, who appeared uninjured.

Their landlord hired people to patch wood over the hole in the bedroom. The building was sound enough for Dal Pezzo and Krpal to stay there. On Friday night, they ordered cheese­steaks and sat down, shocked and stunned. Until Friday morning, things had just begun to get better for them. Both were working full time. He is a manager at a window company. She is an underwriter. They finally had enough money to move out of his mother's house and get this place. Their alarm clock was set to go off at 5 a.m. so they could get ready for work. They thought they were doing everything right.

"What did me and my wife do?" Dal Pezzo said. "We didn't know this guy."

He said it was selfish for Hatfield to kill himself while driving.

"He didn't care. He figured he's gone, so what does it matter who he takes with him," Dal Pezzo said.

"Is that really what this world is coming to?"

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story. Erin Sullivan can be reached at esullivan@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6229.

Police: Man who shot himself while driving crashes into New Port Richey home 09/09/11 [Last modified: Friday, September 9, 2011 9:40pm]

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