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Driver faces murder counts in deaths of 5

Prosecutors filed second-degree murder charges Monday against a 28-year-old man they say was driving drunk when he killed five members of a church group in an accident on Interstate 75 last month.

The murder charges were part of a 35-count package of charges that could net Thomas P. Duckett Jr. five life sentences, plus 60 years in Florida State Prison and eight years in the Hillsborough County Jail.

Hillsborough Assistant State Attorney Hank Lavandera said he has prosecuted serious drunken-driving cases, "but nothing this egregious."

Duckett was driving even though he had lost his Florida license from a previous drunken-driving conviction. He was speeding north on I-75 about 11:20 p.m. Sept. 11 when he crashed into the back of a church bus in the emergency lane, killing four people standing nearby, Florida Highway Patrol officials said.

Eight people were injured, and another person died two days later.

The group of about 25 people, most of them youths, was on its way to Orlando for a Christian music festival called Night of Joy when a flat tire forced the bus off the road.

Duckett had a blood-alcohol level of 0.226 percent, more than twice the level at which a driver is presumed impaired, officials said. He was treated for a spinal fracture at Tampa General Hospital and released to the Hillsborough County Jail on Thursday.

The morning after the accident, Duckett was charged with DUI manslaughter. Prosecutors later decided to add the second-degree murder charges and more manslaughter charges.

Duckett also was charged with causing serious injury and property damage while under the influence, causing a death or injury while driving with a suspended license, unauthorized possession of a driver's license and possession of marijuana.

_ BILL DURYEA

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