TAMPA — Shortly after a fiery crash killed a 68-year-old grandfather on the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway, the man police say caused the collision had a blood alcohol content of 0.275 percent, officers testified Wednesday.
That’s more than three times the level at which Florida law presumes a driver is impaired.
The detail emerged during a pretrial detention hearing Wednesday for Stephen Joseph Paleveda, who faces DUI manslaughter and other charges related to the death of Bamnet Narongchai.
Paleveda, 27, his wrists and ankles shackled, stared silently at a defense table throughout the 40-minute hearing. A small wound, sustained in the fatal crash, was visible near the bridge of his nose.
Hillsborough Circuit Judge Chet Tharpe granted a prosecutor’s request that Paleveda be held without bail after two officers testified.
"It was evident," Tharpe said, "that he had a complete disregard for the safety of the community."
Tampa police began getting calls about a reckless driver just after midnight Sunday in the area of MacDill Avenue and Hawthorne Road, a few blocks west of Bayshore Boulevard in South Tampa.
Another motorist spotted the Ford F-350 pickup truck, which was moving erratically without headlights, in the SoHo area of Tampa. The motorist followed and recorded video on a dashboard camera as the truck hit a sign, blew through red lights, and went the wrong direction on one-way streets.
The truck entered the Selmon but went east in the expressway’s westbound lanes, where it slammed into another vehicle, which caught fire.
The other driver, Narongchai, died. He lived in South Tampa with his wife, friends told the Tampa Bay Times. The couple had recently celebrated the birth of a grandchild.
Born in Thailand, he regularly helped cook food for the Sunday market at the Wat Buddhist temple in the Palm River area. He was a mechanic for Reddy Ice, which donated ice to the market for soft drinks and Thai tea. Friends believe he was on his way home from a late work shift when he was killed.
An Uber driver who witnessed the crash told police she’d seen Paleveda running off.
Officers found him later near Hyde Park Avenue and Azeele Street. His shirt was soaked in blood, police Officer James Blanchard testified. Paleveda was also missing a shoe.
"I asked him if he was injured and in response, he removed his T-shirt and put it on the hood of the police car," Blanchard said.
He could see bruises and scrapes on Paleveda’s body. His breath smelled of alcohol, the officer said. When questioned, Paleveda rambled and became belligerent, Blanchard said.
"He denied involvement in the crash," Blanchard said. "He characterized himself as having only been walking down a sidewalk."
Paleveda was taken to Tampa General Hospital, where a medical blood sample revealed the 0.275 percent blood alcohol content. Impairment is presumed at 0.08 or greater. Results from a second blood sample are still pending.
The defendant glanced once at courtroom spectators. Among them were his brother and sister, attorneys said, along with several of the dead man’s family members.
"I’m so sorry, guys," the brother whispered, breaking into tears.
Contact Dan Sullivan at [email protected] or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.