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But the defendant's attorney says the death was an accident caused by gunfire.

Tosha Montgomery did what she could to get away from Derrick McNeal once their troubled relationship ended, prosecutors said.

She bounced from friend to friend so he wouldn't know where she lived. She changed her cell phone number. When his calls kept coming - sometimes 25 a day to her parents' home - she moved into a domestic violence shelter for protection, said Assistant State Attorney Kimberly Hindman.

Then, on the Fourth of July in 2005, he spotted her standing outside an east Tampa house, gunned the gas of his pickup truck and hit two children as he aimed for Montgomery, Hindman said.

"There is screaming. There is chaos. There is somebody saying, 'Please do not hit the babies,'" Hindman told a Hillsborough County jury Tuesday.

That act by McNeal left 2-year-old Demontaye Simmons dead and 4-year-old Toshayla Hall hospitalized.

Pinned between McNeal and the house, as Demontaye lay lifeless beneath the truck's front wheel, Montgomery heard the "vroom, vroom, vroom" of the engine, Hindman said.

"Derrick McNeal never used the brakes when he went into the yard," Hindman said. "He never intended to use the brakes."

McNeal, 40, is on trial this week, charged with first-degree murder, three counts of attempted murder and five counts of aggravated stalking, among other charges stemming from his tumultuous relationship with Montgomery.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

During opening statements, defense attorney Daniel Hernandez characterized McNeal as a victim, saying Montgomery's friends harassed him after they broke up.

"There will be conflicting evidence of who was pursuing who," Hernandez told jurors.

McNeal and Montgomery stopped dating sometime in April 2005. Shortly after, Hernandez said, a bullet intended for Montgomery struck his cousin instead.

On the day of the deadly incident, McNeal was with relatives at MacFarlane Park. Hernandez said someone lured him to the east Tampa neighborhood.

Hernandez said McNeal heard gunshots as he approached the home at 3201 E 24th Ave. He ducked as he drove and couldn't see where he was heading.

"Running over and killing the child, Demontaye Simmons, was purely an accident," Hernandez said. "He never intended to hurt, much less kill, anyone."

Prosecutors said that McNeal peeled out of the yard and sped away as someone chased after him, firing a gun at the truck.

Tampa police, Hillsborough sheriff's deputies and the U.S. Marshal's Office located McNeal two days later in a Brandon motel and arrested him after a brief struggle.

Asked by news reporters about the death of the 2-year-old after he was in custody, McNeal said, "They deserved what they got. They double-crossed me."

Hernandez attempted to explain the statement, which Hindman had brought to the jury's attention.

"Mr. McNeal was upset because he was a victim," Hernandez said. "He was being wrongfully accused. He didn't even know he had hit a child."

Testimony is expected to last all week.

Kevin Graham can be reached at or (813) 226-3433.