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

Deputy Philip J. Montesi was trying to catch up with a unit conducting mobile surveillance on a suspect at the time of the crash that killed Josiah Pinner, Sheriff Chad Chronister said Tuesday.
BRONTE WITTPENN | Times Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister releases information about the January 11 incident involving Deputy Philip J. Montesi when he struck and killed 15-year-old Josiah Pinner with his unmarked patrol vehicle during a press conference at Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office in Tampa on Tuesday, January 22, 2019. Chronister, who explained the information with a map, said that Montesi entered the intersection to catch up with his team during a surveillance mission when he struck Pinner in an attempt to avoid a bicyclist. He adds that both the bicyclist and Pinner were against the red light flow of traffic. "Hopefully this is the last person, loss of life in the university area," Chronister said. The case will proceed to the internal affairs

TAMPA — The undercover Hillsborough County sheriff's deputy who struck and killed a 15-year-old Tampa boy was driving 66 miles per hour in a 45 mph zone at the time of the collision, Sheriff Chad Chronister said Tuesday.

The deputy's speed and his name were two of the new details Chronister released during a news briefing on the Jan. 11 crash. Chronister also confirmed that Josiah Pinner and a friend were crossing Florida Avenue north of a crosswalk at E 124th Avenue and that the deputy who struck him had the green light, according to witness accounts and photographic evidence recovered from the scene.

"It's concerning," Chronister said of the deputy's speeding. "Anyone who exceeds the speed limit better have a very justifiable reason for why they're doing it."

Undercover Deputy Philip J. Montesi, 29, was part of a unit conducting mobile surveillance on a "bad guy" in the area and was trying to catch up to the unit at the time of the crash, Chronister said. Montesi was driving north on Florida Avenue in a 2011 Hyundai Elantra about 6:25 p.m. when Josiah and his friend tried to cross from the east side of the road.

When Montesi entered the intersection, the friend was walking with a bicycle in the inside northbound lane just ahead of Josiah. When Montesi swerved to the outside lane to avoid hitting the friend, the Hyundai struck Josiah, Chronister said.

Deputy Andrew Van Guilder, who was also part of the surveillance unit, was driving behind Montesi in a marked patrol car and stopped to render aid to the teen. After the crash, Montesi got out, inspected his car, realized he'd hit something and immediately turned around to return to the scene, according to the Sheriff's Office. Paramedics arrived and pronounced Josiah dead.

Rumors have circulated among Josiah's family and friends that Montesi was speeding without his lights on and left the scene after the crash. Chronister said Montesi's headlights were on at the time of the crash and said reports that the crash was a hit-and-run are "completely false."

When the crash investigation is complete, the results will be turned over the to the agency's Internal Affairs section division to determine if Montesi was following policies and procedures.

Montesi has been with the agency since 2013 and is a member of the District 1 street crimes unit. He has been involved in three traffic crashes since then. The Sheriff's Office Motor Vehicle Crash Board concluded two were "unavoidable" and one was "excusable," according to the Sheriff's Office. Details about those crashes were not available Tuesday.

Montesi has still not returned to duty, opting to take accrued time off and attend counseling sessions in the aftermath of the crash.

"He's struggling," Chronister said. "He's also dealing with a lot of grief that he caused a death regardless of who's at fault and who's not at fault."

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Family marches to demand answers in death of teen struck by Hillsborough deputy's car

Chronister said he met with members of Josiah's family earlier Tuesday to give them the new details.

"I think they took solace in the fact that they had some answers that after 10 days they had been waiting for," the sheriff said. "Other than that I don't think we could apologize enough for the loss of their son's life."

Scores of Josiah's family members, friends and other demonstrators joined Josiah's parents, Joanne Rojas and Jesse Pinner, in a march to a Sheriff's Office substation last week to bring attention to the case and demand answers from the Sheriff's Office.

Rojas did not immediately return a message from the Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday.

Chronister said he hopes the tragic outcome will fuel an effort to stress the importance of using crosswalks and obeying traffic signals.

"I would love and advocate for all of us to take some of this energy that all of you feel, some of this emotion, and join the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office in our fight to educate people so hopefully this is the last loss of life that we have in the University area."

Contact Tony Marrero at tmarrero@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.

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