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Troopers seize car suspected in Marine's death

PORT RICHEY — The Florida Highway Patrol trooper at the door was looking for a car that killed a motorcyclist on U.S. 19.

The first clue the trooper might be at the right place: Two small children came up and asked him, are you here to see the car that hit the motorcycle?

That's what happened on Saturday, according to an FHP search warrant, before troopers got a court order to seize the vehicle they think was involved in the June 18 hit-and-run crash that killed Nicholas Burns Jr.

The 22-year-old Marine reservist and Citrus County resident was set to deploy to Iraq in December. His funeral was on Tuesday.

After last week's crash, the FHP asked for help in finding the vehicle, described as a gray sedan with a spoiler on the back.

The kids helped. So did tow truck driver Scott Winfough.

According to the FHP warrant, Winfough told troopers that he towed a silver-gray Pontiac Grand Prix not far from the crash site. It even had a damaged driver's side door.

Troopers found the car Saturday at the Port Richey address Winfough gave them. It was a rental.

But when troopers asked Enterprise Rent-A-Car for help, according to the FHP, they didn't get any.

The rental company wouldn't identify who rented the vehicle and wouldn't let troopers take it. An Enterprise spokeswoman said Tuesday the company could not comment on an ongoing investigation.

Stacey Lowe, Burns' girlfriend, was incredulous.

"I don't see why it was a problem," said Lowe, 22. "A man died and they should have done what they could to help us."

So troopers waited with the car for up to 12 hours until they could get a warrant signed by a judge Sunday to seize the car.

"The car wasn't going to go anywhere," FHP Sgt. Steve Gaskins told the St. Petersburg Times. "But it wasn't because of any help from Enterprise. We had to go the extra mile."

The Grand Prix will undergo forensic testing, Gaskins said, in the hopes that physical evidence on the exterior can link it to the fatal crash and maybe something in the interior can identify the driver.

Gaskins said the FHP has two suspects: a male and a female. But conflicting witness' accounts put both behind the wheel, he said.

The residents of the Port Richey garage where the car was found — 9930 Woodridge Court — denied driving or renting the car, the warrant said.

The St. Petersburg Times is withholding the names in the warrant because Gaskins could not say if any are suspects.

FHP needs another court order to get Enterprise to identify who rented the car. But FHP may have found the car just in time. Individuals whom Gaskins did not identify "were trying to have the car repaired, to have it fixed to cover up the crime."

Burns was headed north on U.S. 19, authorities said, when the car ran a stop sign at Bougenville Avenue, crossed into the intersection and cut off the motorcycle.

After the collision, the driver did not stop or offer any help, according to authorities, and instead fled south on U.S. 19. Last week FHP released surveillance camera photos of the vehicle as it cut through a parking lot.

Burns grew up in Homosassa and excelled at track and soccer at Lecanto High School. He had his own business and was just a few classes shy of his associate's degree at Central Florida Community College. He was headed home from a networking class when he died.

The crash left him brain dead, doctors told his family. Dozens came to St. Petersburg's Bayfront Medical Center to say goodbye before he died June 19.

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Jamal Thalji can be reached at thalji@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6236.

Troopers seize car suspected in Marine's death 06/24/08 [Last modified: Thursday, June 26, 2008 7:50pm]
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