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Pinellas deputies started car chase that caused fatal 2018 crash, widow alleges in lawsuit

The man who killed Donald Young is now in prison. But his widow says in a lawsuit that Pinellas law enforcement agencies are also responsible.
Donald Young, 56, was fatally injured when his Ford Mustang, right, was struck be a Chevrolet Malibu, left, that ran a red light on Aug. 2, 2018 in St. Petersburg. The driver who caused the crash, John Owa, later pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide. But the victim's wife says in a lawsuit that the Pinellas sheriff, Pinellas County and the cities of Clearwater and St. Petersburg also to blame because officers started the pursuit that led to the crash.
Donald Young, 56, was fatally injured when his Ford Mustang, right, was struck be a Chevrolet Malibu, left, that ran a red light on Aug. 2, 2018 in St. Petersburg. The driver who caused the crash, John Owa, later pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide. But the victim's wife says in a lawsuit that the Pinellas sheriff, Pinellas County and the cities of Clearwater and St. Petersburg also to blame because officers started the pursuit that led to the crash.
Published Aug. 20, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG — There is no doubt that John Owa killed Donald Young two years ago.

Early in the morning of Aug. 2, 2018, Owa sped away on 49th Street N when a Pinellas sheriff’s deputy tried to pull him over. Owa’s car T-boned a Ford Mustang driven by Young, killing the 56-year-old driver. Court records show Owa pleaded guilty to several charges, including vehicular homicide, and was sentenced to 9½ years in prison.

But Young’s widow, Elizabeth Young, alleges that Owa isn’t the only one who deserves blame in her husband’s death. In a wrongful-death lawsuit filed late last month, Young accuses three Pinellas County law enforcement agencies of negligence for starting the pursuit that led to the crash.

The suit names Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and the cities of St. Petersburg and Clearwater as defendants. The Sheriff’s Office and the St. Petersburg and Clearwater Police Departments all took part in the case working as the Violent Crimes Task Force.

The lawsuit says members of all three agencies were working together in St. Petersburg, near 22nd Avenue S and 23rd Street S, when a deputy noticed Owa’s Chevrolet Malibu. The deputy did a computer check on the license tag and found that Owa had a suspended license.

The deputy tried to pull Owa over, but he fled, according to the lawsuit and the Sheriff’s Office account. At the time, Gualtieri said deputies didn’t pursue Owa, who drove slowly through residential neighborhoods before taking off on 49th Street N going as fast as 70 mph. But undercover units kept watch from afar.

Elizabeth Young’s lawsuit alleges deputies and officers did “recklessly (pursue) Owa for several miles,” despite Owa being accused of a minor, nonviolent infraction. One deputy tried to cut Owa off with a “pursuit intervention technique” — using a sheriff’s vehicle to knock Owa’s car off the road — while another tried to deploy tire-deflation devices called “Stop Sticks,” according to the lawsuit.

All of this led Owa to flee at a high rate of speed as he ran red lights and stop signs and eventually crashed into Donald Young at Fifth Avenue N, according to the lawsuit.

Young was driving east on Fifth Avenue N when he entered the intersection of 49th Street N with the green light, according to the sheriff’s account. Owa was driving south in the northbound lanes of 49th Street N when deputies said he ran a red light and struck the passenger side of the Mustang. Young was taken to a hospital, where he later died of his injuries.

Through her attorneys, Elizabeth Young declined to comment. The firm representing her, C. Todd Smith Law in Orlando, said it didn’t have any statement beyond what was contained in the lawsuit, which was filed in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court..

A Clearwater spokeswoman said the city does not comment on pending litigation. A St. Petersburg spokesman cited the same reason for declining to comment, as did a Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office spokesman.

In late 2018, Young told WFTS-Ch 28 that she and her husband had moved to Florida not long before the crash, and that they were looking forward to his impending retirement. Donald Young was on his way to work the morning he was killed, she said.

“He just wanted to retire here, spend time with me and spend time enjoying the beaches, fishing and boating,” she told the TV station, “and he never had that opportunity to do that.”