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Bail lowered for suspect in hit-and-run fatalities

(ran PC edition)

A circuit judge on Tuesday lowered the $200,000 bail for a driver accused of a hit-and-run crash that killed a Zephyrhills police detective and his wife last month.

Circuit Judge Maynard Swanson reduced the bail to $30,000 for Jose Rodriquez-Ernandez, 20, at the request of Public Defender Robert Focht.

Rodriquez-Ernandez is accused of turning a pickup truck onto State Road 39, hitting the driver's side of the vehicle driven by Zephyrhills Police Department Detective Harvey "Butch" Hillis Jr. and his wife, Donna.

The detective was pronounced dead at the scene. Mrs. Hillis was flown to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, where she was pronounced dead.

Witnesses said Rodriquez-Ernandez drove away, but other drivers followed the pickup about three-quarters of a mile until the truck stopped.

Rodriquez-Ernandez remained in the Pasco County jail in Land O'Lakes on Tuesday on two charges of leaving the scene of a fatal accident.

Last month, another judge ruled there was insufficient probable cause to hold a man accused of riding in the truck with Rodriquez-Ernandez on the same charges. However, the federal government put a temporary hold on Robert Ramirez-Alfaro, 24, until it could fully check his citizenship.

Prosecutor Linda Babb said there also are questions about Rodriquez-Ernandez's citizenship and his name.

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