TAMPA — A Tampa water department employee who ran into and killed a toddler with a city truck Thursday night was visiting relatives on the job when the accident happened, a policy violation for which he has previously been disciplined, city officials said.
The driver, Robert Fennell, cooperated with investigators after the accident that killed 2-year-old Demetrick Lindsey at the Tampa Park Apartments. The child's death was being called an accident, police said.
But Fennell, 48, could potentially face discipline for making personal use of a city vehicle. He remained on the job Friday, but he has been prohibited from driving city vehicles until the accident investigation is complete, Tampa officials said.
Fennell's personnel file shows that he was reprimanded last year after backing up into a parked car while visiting his girlfriend during work hours.
The file also reveals that city officials were aware that Fennell had served seven years in federal prison for cocaine distribution before he was hired as a utility technician in 2006.
The city's human resources director, Kimberly Crum, noted that Florida law prohibits municipalities from denying employment to someone based solely on a criminal history.
"We have to look at the totality of each person's personal history," Crum said. "In this guy's particular case, he has been with us a number of years and has been a successful employee. He hasn't had any other drug-related issues."
Fennell was leaving the apartment complex at 1015 Lily White Court at about 8:30 p.m. when Demetrick darted in front of the truck, according to police. Fennell was driving slowly but was unable to see the boy, police said. When he realized what had happened, he got out of the truck and came to the boy's aid.
A security officer for the apartment complex performed CPR to try to revive the boy, police said. The child was taken to a hospital, where he died.
Fennell was not issued a traffic citation, police said.
Ali Muhammad, 25, a cousin of Demetrick's, said late Thursday that the boy was being watched by a family friend when he wriggled free and ran into the street. Police said Friday that they were investigating to see whether that was true.
"We are still working to determine whether a crime, as it relates to the care of the child, occurred," police spokeswoman Janelle McGregor said. "The crash itself appears to be a tragic accident."
Fennell's job entails driving a city vehicle to and from the sites of various water-related emergencies, city officials said. He works at night and makes $40,248 a year, city officials said.
He was between work assignments Thursday when he drove to the Tampa Park Apartments to visit family, said city spokeswoman Ali Glisson.
"Fennell violated city policy for using his vehicle for personal reasons, and once the investigation is complete, the city will take appropriate disciplinary action," Glisson said.
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A notice of disciplinary action in Fennell's city personnel file details an accident he caused in April 2013. While visiting his girlfriend in his city vehicle, Fennell backed up into a parked car and later fled the scene.
He received a written reprimand for failing to report the accident and for using a city vehicle for an unauthorized purpose. He was also issued a traffic citation for improper backing, which was dismissed in court, records show.
Records also show that Fennell served about seven years in federal prison for a 1998 conviction related to the manufacture and trafficking of cocaine. He also has convictions in state court for aggravated battery on a law enforcement officer and fleeing to elude, related to a 1996 chase with Tampa police that ended in a crash.
He was released from prison in 2005 and worked a number of short-term laborer jobs before he was hired by the city, according to his personnel file. His performance evaluations reflect consistent praise from his supervisors. He also has collected occasional letters of thanks from city residents whose water problems he helped fix.
Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Dan Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.