An on-duty Pinellas deputy drove his patrol vehicle over a 23-year-old woman lying on the sand at St. Pete Beach on Wednesday afternoon, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.
Deputy Todd Brien, 58, was on beach patrol. He had parked his fully-marked 2017 Chevrolet Tahoe behind The Lido, located at 4450 Gulf Blvd., and was speaking to several people on the beach when dispatchers asked him to check on a 911 hang-up call about 1:08 p.m., the agency said in a news release Wednesday night.
Brien turned right and ran over Robin Diffenderfer, who was lying in the sand, the Sheriff’s Office said. Diffenderfer was on her back, and the front, driver-side tire drove over her “right side and mid-to-upper back area,” the news release states.
She was taken to a local hospital with injuries that the Sheriff’s Office described as non-life-threatening.
Anna DePellegrin, 58, who was visiting from Toronto with her family, was on the beach Wednesday afternoon when she heard yelling and screaming. Bystanders were shouting at the deputy to stop, saying he had run someone over, she said. DePellegrin’s husband and son helped the deputy lift the SUV off of Diffenderfer while DePellegrin and her daughter helped pull the woman out from under the vehicle. The deputy ran over the woman with his front passenger tire, DePellegrin and her 26-year-old daughter, Alesya, said.
The deputy remained calm throughout the situation, immediately radioing for help, the family said.
Anna DePellegrin, who is a nurse, began asking Diffenderfer questions to help her stay conscious. Diffenderfer had tire marks on her back, as well as a gash on her head, and said she couldn’t feel her leg, DePellegrin recounted. The 23-year-old began going into shock, saying she felt very dizzy and cold. DePellegrin stayed with the woman until a paramedic arrived with the fire department.
First responders loaded Diffenderfer onto a stretcher and into the back of a fire rescue pickup truck, DePellegrin and her family recalled. Attempts to reach people at phone numbers listed for Diffenderfer and her family were unsuccessful Thursday.
DePellegrin said the deputy’s vehicle was close to the water and she feels the incident could have been avoided if he wasn’t driving in such a crowded area.
“It was right in the middle of the beach, where we feel it was obviously very unsafe,” DePellegrin said.
Brien was hired by the Sheriff’s Office in 2013, the release said. He was not injured. The crash is being investigated by the agency’s Major Accident Investigation Team.
The incident isn’t the first case of law enforcement running over a person on the beach in recent years. In May 2020, an Indian Shores police officer ran over a 66-year-old man on the beach in that city. The man was taken to an area hospital with serious, but non-life-threatening injuries. The results of the investigation into that case were not immediately available.