Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Red light crashes are often accidents, not crimes, law says

TAMPA — Terrance Mitchell knew the route by heart.

Drop off kid at day care. Head to gym.

His last memory before the crash was of stopping at U.S. 301, he told deputies. He did not notice the red light 0.3 miles ahead on Falkenburg Road that April morning. He did not remember cruising through it, about 10 mph over the speed limit.

Deputies say Mitchell, 36, did not brake before slamming into Scott Valentino's car, killing the 40-year-old Riverview father of two who loved death metal, Disney and the Washington Redskins.

It was an accident, deputies decided.

And even though accidents are also sometimes crimes, this one was not, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, which decided this month not to charge Mitchell.

The case is closed. Mitchell only got a traffic ticket. To Valentino's sister, Ilisa Nickel, it's like the crash didn't happen. "There were no consequences," she said.

The outcome appears to be representative of similar cases across Florida.

A woman ran a red light in Tampa in the summer 2010, killing a bicyclist on the sidewalk. No charges.

A Naples man ran a red light in his pickup truck, killing a 76-year-old woman in 2011. No charges.

A Sarasota County woman ran a flashing red light, killing a 58-year-old woman also in April. No charges.

When alcohol is involved, criminal charges are filed. Sometimes investigators discover racing. Occasionally, the red light-running driver is fleeing law enforcement or going at extreme speeds.

Those cases often see arrests, made under Florida's subjective vehicular homicide statute. To make that charge, prosecutors must be able to prove that the person was driving "in a reckless manner likely to cause the death of, or great bodily harm to, another."

Unknowingly running a red light and slightly speeding is not included under that definition, said Hillsborough Assistant State Attorney Mike Sinacore. Those are things drivers do on a daily basis and they usually do not kill someone, he said.

"It has to be beyond negligently taking your eyes off the road for a minute," he said.

There has to be some sort of willful or wanton disregard for safety. Otherwise, he said, many drivers are constantly on the verge of committing a criminal act.

Valentino's family is confused and sad. His wife, Carol Valentino, wonders why authorities didn't take Mitchell's driver's license or maybe sentence him to a few months in jail. According to state records, he has a history of speeding tickets — and she knows this.

"I just don't understand it," she said.

She has not heard from Mitchell.

Reached earlier this week, he says he has not tried to contact Carol Valentino out of respect. He is not sure she wants to hear from him.

Mitchell says he is traumatized by the crash. He thinks of it every day. Even though he says he does not remember what happened just before his vehicle slammed into the other, he feels like it is his fault.

He is scared to drive now. He avoids Falkenburg Road at all costs. He doesn't turn on television news for fear he will see a crash scene.

But he doesn't want sympathy.

"Scott and his family are the victims," he said.

Even though criminal court proceedings don't bring loved ones back, family members often find some comfort in the accountability. It is a tangible sign that society feels like the death was not right.

Carol Valentino and others like her do not get that.

After the 2010 crash that killed Tampa bicyclist Diane Vega, her family attended a civil trial in traffic court. Josefina Rodriguez, then 41, was accused of running a red light but was not charged, Tampa police said, because she was not impaired and did not appear to be weaving or speeding.

In traffic court, Vega's family members talked about their suffering and loss.

The judge reminded the crowd that accidents and tragedies happen every day. Rodriguez, who was not criminally charged, got a traffic citation.

Rodriguez left still not convinced she had run a red light.

Terrance Mitchell says he is ready if Carol Valentino ever wants to talk. He wants to look her in the eyes and say that he is sorry that it happened.

Then, he says, he will listen to anything she wants to say.

"Even," he said, "if she just wants to curse at me."

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

Red light crashes are often accidents, not crimes, law says 07/19/13 [Last modified: Friday, July 19, 2013 11:25pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. 20 local museums are offering free admission or deals Saturday for Free Museum Day

    Visual Arts

    For all the community's support of the arts in the bay area, it's nice to be rewarded with free admission once in a while. And that's exactly what many area museums are offering on Saturday.

    The Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg is among the museums participating in the Smithsonian's Museum Day Live, offering free admission. (LANCE ROTHSTEIN   |  Special to the Times)
  2. Cubs bring some other ex-Rays to Trop such as Wade Davis, Ben Zobrist

    Blogs

    Joe Maddon's first trip back to the Trop is getting most of the headlines tonight, but there are several other familiar faces among the eight former Rays now wearing Cubs uniforms.

  3. Bicyclist in critical condition after colliding with vehicle in St. Petersburg

    Accidents

    ST. PETERSBURG — A bicyclist is in critical condition after he ran a red light and was struck by a car on Monday night, according to the St. Petersburg Police Department.

  4. Myanmar leader sidesteps atrocity allegations in first address on Rohingya crisis (w/video)

    World

    YANGON, Myanmar - In her first major speech Tuesday on the worsening Rohingya crisis, Myanmar's de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, sidestepped allegations of atrocities committed against the stateless Muslim minority and cast the conflict as just one of many problems ailing the country.

    A Rohingya Muslim, who crossed over from Myanmar into Bangladesh, carries his belongings as he arrives at Kutupalong refugee camp, Bangladesh, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. With a mass exodus of Rohingya Muslims sparking accusations of ethnic cleansing from the United Nations and others, Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday said her country does not fear international scrutiny and invited diplomats to see some areas for themselves. [Associated Press]
  5. Florida education news: Free lunch, school routines, spending cuts and more

    Blogs

    FREE LUNCH: Hurricane Irma caused many families to go without income for a week. Many also lost power, and along with it the food in their refrigerators and freezers. Making matters worse, replacing it isn't so easy, as grocery stores have limited supplies. Hoping to ease the burden, the state has asked for …