Tampa police suspect DUI in fatal crash

TAMPA — Nearly three weeks after a 31-year-old man was killed and his passengers badly injured in a crash at a Tampa intersection, court files suggest that police are building a DUI manslaughter case.

No one has been charged, but an affidavit for a warrant to search a Cadillac involved in the crash states that driver Charlotte V. Sowards, 18, had a blood alcohol level of 0.159 percent at the hospital. State law presumes impairment at 0.08 percent.

The affidavit also alleges that Sowards ran two stop signs at a high speed before broadsiding a car driven by the man who died, Jason Plummer. The crash occurred about 9:37 p.m. Nov. 20.

Attempts by the St. Petersburg Times to reach Sowards by telephone and at her Tampa home Wednesday were unsuccessful.

The Tampa Police Department wouldn't discuss its investigation except to say that it's still open and that a sample of Sowards' blood has been sent to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for analysis.

A State Attorney's Office spokesman said it's common practice in fatal crashes to wait for the FDLE's results before filing charges. Prosecutors prefer that to the hospital's conclusions, said spokesman Mark Cox.

"We want to have all the evidence in front of us so we can make the best decision," he said.

The FDLE does the official assessment of whether drugs or alcohol are in a person's blood and urine, and in what quantity. The average turnaround time is 39 days.

The state's results can sometimes be lower than a hospital's because of different methodology. And if the draws occurred at different times, alcohol absorption can be a factor, Cox said.

Plummer died instantly in the crash at Wood Street and El Portal Drive, police said. Four of his passengers went to the hospital with serious injuries.

Passenger Ally Ceballos, 16, spent nearly two weeks in the hospital with a fractured pelvis and lacerated spleen, said her mother, Dawn Wallace.

Two men with crash injuries are still in the intensive care unit at St. Joseph's Hospital.

A.J. Adams, 22, suffered brain damage, broken bones and fractures, and his lungs were punctured in the crash, said his mother, Deborah Ward. He'll need physical therapy to walk, she said.

J.P. Flores, 18, who shares a hospital room with Adams, also suffered a head injury.

The two men recently were told of their friend's death, Ward said.

Flores cried when shown Plummer's picture in a newspaper clipping.

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

Tampa police suspect DUI in fatal crash 12/08/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 8, 2010 11:23pm]

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