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Deputy: Officer not negligent

A Citrus County sheriff's investigator is recommending that no criminal charges be filed against an off-duty Crystal River police officer involved in a fatal accident last week.

Sgt. Joe Palminteri said he doesn't think Officer Christopher L. Thompson was acting negligently when he struck and killed a pedestrian on County Road 488 Tuesday night.

"At this point, I don't believe so," he said Monday. "There are no charges that I'm seeing so far."

The State Attorney's Office will make the final determination on whether criminal charges are filed.

But the mother of the pedestrian, Randy G. Leathers, 18, of Beverly Hills, said she doesn't trust the Sheriff's Office to do a thorough investigation.

"If this person was anyone other than a cop, he would have gone straight to jail," said Eileen Lane, 40, of Orlando.

Palminteri's report, completed Monday afternoon, says Thompson was driving 10 miles over the posted speed limit of 50 mph when he struck Leathers on County Road 488, a mile and a half east of the intersection with County Road 495. But Palminteri, who heads the Sheriff's Office traffic unit, said he typically doesn't charge suspects if they are within 10 miles per hour of the limit.

Thompson, 25, of Dunnellon, was driving to his 11 p.m. shift at the time of the accident. According to Palminteri's report, Leathers was walking near the centerline of the highway and was struck by the driver's side of Thompson's 1998 Ford truck. His body was thrown 33 feet in the air, then rolled, coming to rest in a clump of bushes more than 180 feet from the point of impact.

After striking Leathers, Thompson swerved off the side of the road and continued forward until he hit a utility pole 514 feet away.

The stretch of highway is not lighted and Thompson was driving with his low-beam headlights. Visibility was estimated at about 118 feet.

Palminteri said he interviewed eight witnesses who said they saw a white male wearing dark clothes walking in the roadway about the time of the 10:15 p.m. crash on July 10. George Shea of Crystal River was driving west on CR 488at 10 p.m. and said he had to swerve to avoid hitting the pedestrian. He said the young man was acting strangely, standing rigidly on the fog line, "as if at attention," according to Palminteri's report.

Mike Lobfiger of Dunnellon said the pedestrian was stumbling, unsteady and was "acting strange" when he drove past at 9:45 p.m.

Since the crash, much attention has been paid to Thompson's spotty driving record. The police officer, who has been on the force since Jan. 4, has had his license suspended twice and has been involved in three accidents.

The latest was on May 18, when Thompson ran a stop sign and struck a car with his police cruiser while on duty.

Palminteri said Thompson's history was not a factor in his investigation. However, it will be submitted to the State Attorney's Office along with the report.

Lane said she is angry that Thompson is allowed behind the wheel of a police car.

"I don't see how this guy even has a driver's license," she said.

Lane said she plans to hire a private investigator to look into the crash. She's also considering filing a wrongful death suit against the Crystal River Police Department.

"My son died senselessly," she said. "I will not go by their investigation. I want to know what really happened."

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