Clearwater police have launched an internal investigation after a man who was cited in a crash on U.S. 19 on Thursday night caused a second crash that killed his passenger and resulted in his arrest on charges of DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide.
Clearwater police said Bryant Mendoza, 46, of Dunedin crashed a Jeep Grand Cherokee into a crane in a construction zone in the northbound lanes of U.S. 19 at Harn Boulevard at 11:22 p.m. Thursday. A 37-year-old woman who was a passenger in the Jeep was taken to Bayfront Health St. Petersburg, where she died.
Mendoza also was taken to the hospital. He was later arrested and taken to the Pinellas County Jail, where he was released on $40,000 bail.
The Clearwater Police Department, which had issued a news release about the crash and the arrest on Friday morning, released an update Friday afternoon stating that Mendoza had caused a previous rear-end crash about an hour earlier on U.S. 19 and Flournoy Boulevard, which is about a half-mile south of where the fatal crash occurred.
An officer responded to that crash at 10:55 p.m. and cited Mendoza for careless driving, police said. The fatal crash occurred 27 minutes after the officer arrived on the scene of the first crash.
“The Clearwater Police Department will conduct an internal investigation to determine if the officer failed to investigate if Mendoza was driving under the influence at the time of the first crash,” the department’s news release stated.
In the second crash, Mendoza plowed into a crane that was parked in a construction zone that had been marked off, police said. A witness also told investigators that he was speeding, according to a department news release.
The name of the woman who was killed has not been released.
Times staff writer Natalie Weber contributed to this report.