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Hillsborough deputy who struck and killed teen was involved in previous pedestrian crash

Deputy Philip J. Montesi's side mirror struck a man who was walking in the road. Montesi was speeding and distracted by his computer, but an internal review board decided the 2017 crash was unavoidable.
Hillsborough sheriff’s Deputy Philip Montesi was driving north on 78th Street in February 2017 when the mirror of his patrol car, above, clipped a man walking in the road, records show. Montesi is under investigation again after he struck and killed a pedestrian.
Hillsborough sheriff’s Deputy Philip Montesi was driving north on 78th Street in February 2017 when the mirror of his patrol car, above, clipped a man walking in the road, records show. Montesi is under investigation again after he struck and killed a pedestrian.
Published Feb. 15, 2019

TAMPA — A Hillsborough sheriff's deputy who struck and killed a teenager on Florida Avenue last month has another pedestrian crash in his personnel file.

Deputy Philip Montesi, 29, clipped a man with his patrol car's side mirror in February 2017, resulting in minor injuries to the pedestrian, public records obtained by the Tampa Bay Times show.

A preliminary internal affairs investigation found Montesi could have avoided the crash but was distracted by his in-car computer at the time. But a Sheriff's Office's review board ultimately decided the collision was unavoidable.

Some circumstances of the crash are similar to an incident the evening of Jan. 11 when Montesi struck 15-year-old Josiah Pinner while driving an unmarked agency car as Pinner and a friend were trying to cross Florida Avenue at E 124th Avenue in the dark.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Sheriff: Undercover deputy who fatally struck Tampa teen on Florida Avenue was driving 21 miles per hour over the posted speed limit

That crash is still under investigation. Amid outcry from Josiah's family and others demanding transparency, the Sheriff's Office has released some information — that the teen was not in a marked crosswalk, that Montesi had a green light, and that he was driving 21 mph over the speed limit while trying to catch up to a squad conducting undercover surveillance.

A separate internal investigation into Montesi's speed at the time is also underway, Sheriff's Office spokesman Danny Alvarez said.

Montesi was also speeding as he was driving his marked patrol car north on 78th Street north of Temple Terrace Highway about 6 a.m. on Feb. 24, 2017, according to an internal affairs report. Montesi later told investigators he briefly looked down at his computer and looked up when he heard the car hit something, the report says.

Montesi immediately turned around and came upon 47-year-old William White, who told Montesi his "hand was messed up," the report says. Montesi called Temple Terrace Fire Rescue.

White told investigators he was out for a morning walk and was walking in the northbound lane of 78th Street, about six to eight inches from the white line on the side of the road, when he felt something hit his left side. He saw the marked patrol car pass him and then turn around.

White said his left hand, hip, and buttocks were sore but he declined medical treatment at the scene. His wife later took him to be checked out at a hospital, according to the report.

It was still dark and the road was poorly lit at the time of the crash, but White was wearing a yellow reflective vest, according to a Florida Highway Patrol crash report included in the internal affairs file. Investigators concluded the passenger side mirror struck White.

Montesi received no citation.

Data pulled from the patrol car's GPS log showed that at the time of collision, Montesi was traveling 41.4 miles per hour — about 16 mph over the speed limit, the Highway Patrol report says.

White told investigators he wasn't using the sidewalk because it was dark and he's seen possums and raccoons there, the Highway Patrol report says. He was issued a citation for violating a state law that requires pedestrians to use sidewalks where available.

Still, Montesi's commanders concluded in a preliminary report that the crash was avoidable. The report noted that the sanctions for an employee's first avoidable crash include a letter of counseling and instruction from a supervisor. Employees can also lose take-home vehicle privileges for up to five days.

"While the pedestrian was issued a citation for not walking on the provided sidewalk, he was wearing a reflective vest that should have aided in him being visible to Deputy Montesi," the report says. "This crash was avoidable had Deputy Montesi not being distracted" by his mobile data terminal.

The Sheriff's Office's Motor Vehicle Crash Review Board reached a different conclusion, deciding during an April 2017 meeting that the crash was unavoidable. Montesi was not sanctioned.

Alvarez, the sheriff's spokesman, said the board considered the fact that White was walking to the left of the white sideline on an "extremely dark road" where a serviceable sidewalk was available. The board also considered that state law requires pedestrians to walk against the flow of traffic in areas where sidewalks aren't available or serviceable.

The review board is composed of three voting members and two non-voting members. At the time of the Montesi review, Sheriff Chad Chronister was a colonel and chairman of the board.

White hired an attorney to fight his citation in court and was found not guilty in July 2017, records show. He declined to comment Friday.

Montesi joined the Sheriff's Office in 2013. He has two other crashes in his file. In one, a woman backed into his patrol car. The collision was ruled unavoidable. In the other, a fleeing suspect bailed out of a Cadillac Escalade, causing the SUV to roll into Montesi's patrol car. The collision was ruled excusable.

After the crash that killed Josiah, Montesi took several days off and attended counseling, Chronister said last month. He returned to regular duty Jan. 26.

That happened to be the day of Pinner's funeral. His mother, Joanne Rojas, said about 300 people attended the service at McDonald Funeral Home. Afterward, Josiah was buried at Rest Haven Cemetery.

Rojas didn't know the details of Montesi's previous pedestrian-involved crash until the Times reached her Friday.

"He keeps having these traffic accidents, and the last one resulted in my son's death," Rojas said. "He needs a desk job or something."

Contact Tony Marrero at tmarrero@tampabay.com or (813) 247-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.