Thursday, November 23, 2017
News Roundup

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

RECOMMENDED READING


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 [email protected] or (813) 226-3433.

Comments
Thanksgiving forecast: Rain today, but sunny skies this weekend

Thanksgiving forecast: Rain today, but sunny skies this weekend

It’s going to be a wet Thanksgiving across Tampa Bay, but sunny skies are coming during the long weekend, according to WTSP 10Weather meteorologist Ric Kearbey. 10News WTSPThe latest Tampa Bay-area radar 10...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Self-proclaimed Nazi banned from University of North Florida — but allowed to remain a student

Self-proclaimed Nazi banned from University of North Florida — but allowed to remain a student

A self-proclaimed Nazi is banned from the University of North Florida’s campus — but will remain a student, university officials said.Ken Parker, a 37-year-old Navy veteran who once served as the grand dragon, or highest-ranking leader, of the Ku Klu...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Days after a high fever, Jon Mott wins his fifth Times Turkey Trot 10K

Days after a high fever, Jon Mott wins his fifth Times Turkey Trot 10K

CLEARWATER — On Tuesday, Jon Mott had a 103-degree fever. That was not enough to keep him from maintaining his dominance Thursday at the 39th Tampa Bay Times Turkey Trot.The former Northeast standout added to his record with his fifth title in the ev...
Updated: 2 hours ago
President Trump presents his report card, passes with flying colors

President Trump presents his report card, passes with flying colors

PALM BEACH — President Donald Trump has a Thanksgiving Day message for the nation: Look at all I’ve done. Trump is telling followers in an early-morning holiday tweet that, "your Country is starting to do really well." He says: Jobs are "coming back,...
Updated: 3 hours ago

Lutz pedestrian dies in accident on U.S. 41

LUTZ — A man is dead after deputies said he walked into the path of a car on U.S. Route 41 Wednesday night.Charles Miller, 69 of Lutz, was walking east across the highway at 7:34 p.m., according to Florida Highway Patrol.Daniel Johnson, 35 and also o...
Updated: 3 hours ago

Police: Family hit on Dale Mabry Highway in stable condition

TAMPA — The mother and two small children who were hit by a car while trying to cross Dale Mabry Highway on Wednesday were all in stable condition by Thanksgiving morning, said Tampa police. Investigators said the family is not originally from the Ta...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Tarpon Springs seeking to honor sponger George Billiris

Tarpon Springs seeking to honor sponger George Billiris

TARPON SPRINGS — The city is considering a way to honor the legacy of the late longtime sponge merchant George Billiris at a city building. "We know how he promoted Tarpon Springs," Commissioner David Banther said at a recent City Commission meeting....
Published: 11/23/17
New Weeki Wachee basketball coach transitions from years on college sidelines

New Weeki Wachee basketball coach transitions from years on college sidelines

WEEKI WACHEE — Mark Lee was looking for an accomplished coach to take over Weeki Wachee High’s boys basketball team. Not only did he find what he was searching for, but he may have gone above and beyond with the hiring of Rick Scruggs.The 30-year vet...
Published: 11/23/17
Bar review: Fashion and adult beverages at Bartique in St. Petersburg

Bar review: Fashion and adult beverages at Bartique in St. Petersburg

Like many people, I treat holiday shopping as a terrifying last-minute ordeal — a scramble to fill out gift lists with a number of items that, despite a complete lack of planning, will somehow seem thoughtful.You know what would make this whole thing...
Published: 11/23/17
Thief in stolen rental truck takes ATM machine from Secrets Gentlemen’s Club

Thief in stolen rental truck takes ATM machine from Secrets Gentlemen’s Club

TAMPA — Instead of dropping money at the strip club, a burglar hauled off an ATM machine full of it about an hour before Secrets Gentlemen’s Club opened Tuesday.The the man loaded the club’s single cash machine into a stolen U-Haul storage truck, lic...
Updated: 26 minutes ago