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Citrus County Sheriff strikes, kills pedestrian in Hernando County

A friend identified the victim as a tree service foreman who lived near the scene of the collision.
Citrus Sheriff Mike Prendergast. [Citrus County Sheriff's Office] [Citrus County Sheriff's Office]
Published Aug. 22
Updated Aug. 23

Citrus County Sheriff Mike Prendergast struck and killed a man walking on U.S. 19 just north of Weeki Wachee on Wednesday night, the Florida Highway Patrol said.

An investigation is underway and no charges have been filed, the Highway Patrol said.

Prendergast, 62, of Inverness, was driving north in his unmarked Sheriff’s Office Chevy Tahoe when he struck a man who was walking in or across the outside lane of the highway, the Highway Patrol said.

The pedestrian, 59-year-old Ronnie Anthony Heath of Hernando County, died at the scene.

The collision occurred on U.S. 19 in Hernando County near Woodland Water Boulevard.

Ronnie Anthony Heath of Citrus County, who enjoyed fishing with his employer and friend Gary McQuiston, was killed when he was struck while walking across U.S. 19 by the Citrus County Sheriff. [Courtesy of Gary McQuiston]

Prendergast cooperated fully with Highway Patrol investigation and submitted to all requested testing, the Sheriff’s Office said in a news release, including a blood draw. Preliminary information indicates Prendergast had not been drinking.

Heath lived just a block away from the crash scene, said Gary McQuiston, his employer and friend as owner of Big Bear Tree Service. Heath may have been heading home from visiting friends nearby when he was hit.

McQuiston described Heath as hardworking, outgoing and a friend of his for more than a decade. When they met, he said, Heath was homeless and living in the woods. They’d worked together ever since, fishing together in their downtime.

Last year, in the wake of Hurricane Michael, the two men traveled to the Panhandle to help remove trees from roads and houses.

“He changed his whole life around,” McQuiston said.

At the time of the crash, Prendergast was returning home from a board meeting with the nonprofit Sheriffs Ranches Enterprises, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

Prendergast, a Tampa native who graduated from high school in Clearwater, spent 31 years as a military police officer including a stint at MacDill Air Force Base.

He also served as then-Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s chief of staff from his 2011 inauguration until the legislative session later that year, when Scott appointed him executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

He has been sheriff since 2016.

In its news release, the Sheriff’s Office said, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of the pedestrian during this difficult time."

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story had the wrong location for the collision and the victim’s residence.

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