TAMPA — Scores of demonstrators took to the streets Thursday night demanding answers from the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office to questions about a collision that killed a 15-year-old boy as he was crossing a street. An undercover deputy was behind the wheel of the car that hit Josiah Pinner.
Chanting "Justice for Josiah," the boy's family, friends and others marched about 2 miles from the site of the crash at N Florida and E 124th avenues to the Sheriff's Office District 1 substation on N 20th Street. As they chanted outside, a sheriff's colonel tried to clear up rumors circulating about the details of the crash and told reporters the agency would release more information soon.
"The family wants answers as to what occurred last Friday night and that is certainly understandable," Col. Kyle Robinson said during a news conference streamed live on the agency's Facebook page. "But the Sheriff's Office must complete a thorough investigation and must only release information that has been supported by the evidence and is believed to be 100 percent correct."
Josiah and a 14-year-old friend were trying to cross Florida Avenue about 6:30 p.m. Jan. 11 when the crash happened.
The undercover deputy was driving an unmarked sedan north on Florida Avenue and had the green light to cross the intersection with E 124th Avenue, according to the Sheriff's Office. The deputy saw one of the boys walking a bike across the street and swerved to avoid him, but the deputy's vehicle struck Josiah, the Sheriff's Office has said. Officials have said the teens were crossing the road north of a crosswalk.
The Sheriff's Office has not identified the deputy who was driving because he works undercover, but Robinson said his name might be released later.
Josiah's parents, Joanne Rojas and Jesse Pinner, have said they were told by witnesses that the undercover deputy initially left the scene and then returned. The Sheriff's Office says that's not true.
"I know that was the perception the night of the incident, but there is no evidence to support that whatsoever," Robinson said. "It's a dark stretch of road, it was after sunset and things happened quick, but in no way did the deputy flee the scene of that crash."
Josiah's friend has said the deputy was speeding and his headlights were not on at the time of the crash. Robinson said the investigation will address those questions.
Robinson also disputed the idea that the Sheriff's Office shouldn't be investigating a crash involving its own deputy.
"This is not anything new to us," he said. "We investigate our own deputy-involved shootings, we investigate our deputy-involved crashes, and I challenge anyone to find an incident that was not investigated thoroughly and the conclusion wasn't accurate."
More than 70 deputies provided security and traffic control for Thursday's march. An estimated 300 people took part, and the event was peaceful.
"It was really overwhelming for me," Rojas said Friday.
She said the family still wants answers to key questions about the deputy's headlights and how fast he was driving.
"I really wonder if it was speed," Rojas said.
The family took up a collection for funeral expenses and is just short of their goal, she said. Josiah will be buried at Rest Haven Cemetery in Tampa.
As the boy's family continues to grieve, Robinson said the undercover deputy is struggling, too.
He has not yet returned to duty, electing to take accrued time off. He also took the agency up on its offer to provide professional counseling.
"The deputy understandably is having some tough days," Robinson said. "We're trying to get him back on duty, but we're not going to do that prematurely because his health and welfare is certainly a priority of ours, as well."
Contact Tony Marrero at email@example.com or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.