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Police identify St. Petersburg couple as victims in Thanksgiving Day collision

Chris and Doug Simpson were killed in the crash at Central Avenue and 34th Street on Thanksgiving. Police say Anthony Neeley of Seminole was drunk when he slammed into them.
Published Nov. 29, 2014

ST. PETERSBURG — Doug and Christina Simpson fell in love in their native Pennsylvania, then fell in love with Florida.

After meeting on a running track in Pittsburgh, the couple married in 1997, honeymooned in Pinellas County and moved here about five years later.

"They lived on the beach for a while and then moved into St. Petersburg and loved it and decided that's where they were going to stay," said Doug Simpson's sister, Sally Mannas.

On Thanksgiving Day, the Simpsons were returning to their home near Little Bayou Park after a gathering with friends in Tampa when, police say, a Porsche SUV barrelled into their Toyota Corolla at the intersection of Central Avenue and 34th Street. The force of the impact threw twisted metal, broken glass and human life across the pavement.

Doug, 64, and Christina, 53, died instantly.

According to St. Petersburg police, Anthony Apollo Neeley, 31, of Seminole was drunk and driving the Porsche at least 100 miles an hour when he slammed into the Simpsons about 5:30 p.m. The Porsche then rolled several times eastward on Central Avenue. Neeley suffered minor injuries and was taken to Bayfront Health St. Petersburg, authorities said.

Moments before slamming into the Simpsons, Neeley crashed into a minivan crossing Central at 58th Street and kept driving. Police said officers were not pursuing Neeley before either of the crashes.

His blood-alcohol level was 0.153 shortly after the crashes, nearly twice the legal limit, according to an arrest affidavit. His driving history was not available Friday, but court records show he has faced a number of past charges — from battery to drug possession to traffic infractions, including driving without a valid license.

In Thursday's accident, he faces two counts of DUI manslaughter and charges of leaving the scene of a crash involving attended property, violation of a business purpose-only driver's license, operating an unregistered vehicle and operating with no valid insurance. He was being held Friday in the Pinellas County Jail on more than $1 million bail.

Marjorie Sutherland was on her way to pick up a friend for Thanksgiving dinner when Neeley blew through a red light and smashed into the front of her Nissan Quest, she said.

The force of the crash sent her vehicle into the opposite lane of 58th Street S, but no cars were there. Neeley's vehicle spun around, she said, and then he sped off. Sutherland said she suffered "bumps and bruises" to her knee, chest and neck. By Friday afternoon, she still had not eaten the Thanksgiving dinner she was preparing for before the crash.

"Knowing two people died and the way in which they died … there's no joy in it now," she said.

The Simpsons were both born and raised in Pittsburgh. He was the oldest of seven siblings; she was the baby of four.

Christina, who went by Chris, laughed loudly and often, said her brother, Manny Skarvelis.

"She was just so sweet, lovable and friendly," Skarvelis said, his voice cracking during a phone interview from his home in Severna Park, Md.

In 1988, Chris Simpson ran the Boston Marathon in honor of her sister Regina, who died of cancer that year at the age of 42, her brother said. She placed in the top 20 in her age group.

She and Doug met while running on the track at Carnegie Mellon University. Their love of running brought them together and they married about two years later, family members said.

After moving to Florida, Doug Simpson got a job as a night auditor at the TradeWinds Island Resorts in St. Pete Beach and was later promoted to accountant, the job he had when he died, said TradeWinds president Keith Overton.

"He was a terrific employee and an even better person," Overton said. "Just a delight to be around, and one of the most conscientious people in our company."

Chris was an administrative assistant for All Children's Hospital's Early Steps program, which serves infants and toddlers with developmental delays, a spokeswoman confirmed Friday.

Diehard fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates, the couple happily cheered on the Tampa Bay Rays, Skarvelis said. Last month, the Simpsons spent a long weekend visiting him in Maryland. They insisted they would not let so much time go by before the next visit.

Sally Mannas called her brother Wednesday to wish him a happy Thanksgiving because she knew Thursday would be hectic. They talked about meeting in Baltimore and taking a cruise together. Now Mannas plans to come south to Florida to attend Neeley's trial or sentencing hearing, if the case goes that far.

"A drunk driver going 100 miles per hour … to me, it's murder," she said. "This man killed my brother. I want to make sure he's punished for it."

Times staff writer Laura C. Morel and Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Contact Tony Marrero at (727) 893-8779 or tmarrero@tampabay.com. Follow @tmarrerotimes. Contact Zachary T. Sampson at zsampson@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8804. Follow @Zack Sampson.

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