CLEARWATER — Of all the evidence that led detectives to the silver Mercedes G500 they believe fatally struck two tourists at Clearwater Beach, one of the most helpful clues was a specialty license plate.
A search warrant obtained by the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday reveals details about the investigation that followed after Viola Flores, 51, and John Berg, 62, were hit about 8 p.m. Sunday as they tried to cross the westbound lanes of Clearwater Memorial Causeway. The driver did not stop. The Illinois couple were taken to Morton Plant Hospital, where they died.
The owner of the Mercedes, Charles Winzenread, has not been charged with a crime.
As police arrived at the crash scene Sunday night, an officer discovered a silver headlamp with purple marks that matched the color of Flores' purse.
Investigators obtained video surveillance from several businesses on the beach, including the Hyatt Regency at 301 S Gulfview Blvd., which captured a Mercedes with an orange and yellow specialty tag that read "Endless Summer," as well as damage to its right headlight, records state.
Officers also spoke to Tanya Mitow, who told them she was driving west on the causeway when a "boxy Mercedes SUV" cut in front of her as it made a U-turn from the eastbound lanes. She was behind the car when she saw it strike a man and a woman trying to cross the lanes, tossing their bodies onto the side of the road. Mitow stopped to help them and watched as the Mercedes kept driving toward the beach.
Detectives interviewed employees at the nearby Island Way Grill at 20 Island Way, where a waiter identified Winzenread from a pack of photos and said he was "90 percent sure" Winzenread left the restaurant 10 to 15 minutes before emergency crews arrived, records state. A valet also saw a customer driving a Mercedes SUV about 8 p.m. that night. The car had a specialty tag, but he couldn't recall what it looked like.
Investigators compiled a list of more than 100 vehicles that fit the description of the car and discovered only one had an "Endless Summer" specialty tag in Tampa Bay. It belonged to Winzenread, of 10922 Lynn Lake Circle near Carrollwood.
Clearwater Police Detective Thomas Dawe visited the neighborhood and knocked on Winzenread's door. He left a card when no one answered but could see, through a window, a Mercedes parked in the garage. Dawe spoke to neighbors, including a resident who had video surveillance outside his house.
Dawe reviewed the video, which showed a G500 with a damaged headlight pulling into the driveway of Winzenread's house at 9:06 p.m.
When Winzenread and his girlfriend, Heather Snyder, arrived at their home, Dawe approached them.
"Charles Winzenread acknowledged his vehicle was in the garage," records state, "and he promised his attorney that he would not provide a statement."
Snyder also declined to speak with Dawe.
After obtaining a search warrant, police seized the Mercedes early Wednesday and discovered damage to the hood "consistent with a pedestrian impact," records say. They found skin and more purple markings like the ones on the headlamp found at the scene. Investigators also found silver paint chips on Flores' body.
The car also was missing the right headlamp.
After obtaining a second warrant to search the car, police collected DNA samples, fingerprints, paint chips and the right fender.
Contact Laura C. Morel at email@example.com. Follow @lauracmorel.