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Family mourns St. Petersburg crash victims: ‘Nobody should be burned alive’

Douglas “Dougie” Cade Jr., 39, was getting his life back on track, his brother said, when a drunken driver slammed into the back of his car on Interstate 4, killing Cade and a friend.
Two St. Petersburg men were killed by a drunken driver Dec. 15 on Interstate 4 in Tampa, the Florida Highway Patrol said. They are Douglas “Dougie” Cade Jr., 39, left, and Jason Rzechula, 47.
Two St. Petersburg men were killed by a drunken driver Dec. 15 on Interstate 4 in Tampa, the Florida Highway Patrol said. They are Douglas “Dougie” Cade Jr., 39, left, and Jason Rzechula, 47. [ Ben Johnston ]
Published Jan. 18

Douglas “Dougie” Cade Jr. bought a Toyota Camry from his grandmother in November, a small step in life for some people but a big one for a 39-year-old recovering addict recently released from prison.

Cade had landed a job as a mover, earned a GED, and — for the first time in more than a decade — obtained a valid driver’s license, said his younger brother, Ben Johnston.

“I just remember him being so happy to have that car and to have that freedom again, without the worry of being caught by anybody,” Johnston said Tuesday.

Cade would lose his newfound freedom, and his life, just before 2 a.m. Dec. 15.

That’s when a Winter Haven man driving drunk in a high-performance Audi coupe slammed into the back of Cade’s Camry at 152 mph on Interstate 4, the Florida Highway Patrol said. The collision hurled the Camry into the air and it erupted in flames before coming to rest near 50th Street, 1,000 feet down the road.

Cade and his passenger, 47-year-old Jason Rzechula, were trapped inside the burning car, the Highway Patrol said.

“There’s obviously no good way to die unexpectedly,” Johnston said. “But absolutely nobody should be burned alive. ... It kills me knowing that’s how he went out.”

Prosecutors have charged 34-year-old Jorge Britton, the Audi’s driver, with DUI manslaughter, DUI with serious injury and vehicular homicide.

Two St. Petersburg men riding in this Toyota Camry died after the car was hit from behind by an Audi convertible traveling at 152 mph, prosecutors said. Arrested in the deaths was Jorge Britton, 34, of Winter Haven, shown here in his jail booking photo.
Two St. Petersburg men riding in this Toyota Camry died after the car was hit from behind by an Audi convertible traveling at 152 mph, prosecutors said. Arrested in the deaths was Jorge Britton, 34, of Winter Haven, shown here in his jail booking photo. [ Florida Highway Patrol, Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office ]

Britton had drunk at least one beer at a Tampa Bay Lightning game and shared a bottle of Casamigos tequila at the Penthouse adult club, 1801 N Westshore Blvd., an arrest report said. He left the club with two women, 35 and 21, one sitting on the other’s lap in the two-seat coupe as they sped toward the Seminole Hard Rock Casino, the report said. None of the three wore a seatbelt and all received serious injuries.

A Tampa police officer was the first to arrive at the scene and helped Britton from his car. A state trooper rode in an ambulance with Britton to Tampa General Hospital, noting his bloodshot eyes and smell of alcohol. A blood test showed his blood-alcohol level was over the legal limit, the report said.

It was three weeks before Britton was finally booked into jail. Now, prosecutors want him to stay there without bail while he awaits trial, calling him a threat to the community — in part, because he “launders millions of dollars” of illegal drug proceeds by investing in real estate, restaurants and bars in the area, they said.

The State Attorney’s Office declined to elaborate. Britton has not been charged with any drug-related offenses.

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Records on file with the Florida Secretary of State name Britton as a principal in eight Hillsborough County businesses. Three of them were listed as active as of Jan. 7, with addresses in downtown Tampa.

A visit to the addresses, across from one another in the Park Tower and Rivergate Tower high-rises, revealed no sign of the businesses. An employee at a shared working space in Rivergate Tower, Pipeline Tampa Coworking and Shared Offices, said one of the Britton businesses — T & J Investments and Demolition — used to work from the space but recently left.

Britton’s wife, Brooke Britton, was a partner in one of his now-inactive businesses, Florida Pest Control. Britton has a child with another woman, Hillsborough court records show, and he and Brooke Britton are raising the child in Winter Haven, her Facebook page shows. The couple also has other children.

Four other people also are listed as partners in some of the Britton businesses. They could not be reached at phone numbers listed for them.

A judge was set to hear arguments Wednesday in the prosecution’s request to hold Britton without bail, but the hearing was canceled after Britton decided not to challenge the request.

Britton has changed attorneys since the time of the crash and now is represented by David E. Little. Little told the Tampa Bay Times on Jan. 7 he had no comment on the charges against his client or the money-laundering allegations.

Brooke Britton did not respond to messages left at a phone number listed for her and at her social media sites.

Johnston said he’s furious at Britton’s not-guilty plea considering what he calls the overwhelming evidence against the man.

“I have no sympathy for him or however long he gets,” said Johnston, 31, of St. Petersburg. “However long it is, it will never be enough.”

Johnston takes some solace in knowing that, during the weeks before the crash, Cade and his family had repaired their relationship. The two brothers had resumed talking together on a regular basis, as they did when they were younger.

Douglas “Dougie” Cade Jr., left, and his younger brother Ben Johnston, right, had planned to start a moving company together.
Douglas “Dougie” Cade Jr., left, and his younger brother Ben Johnston, right, had planned to start a moving company together. [ Ben Johnston ]

Cade was released from prison in November 2020. He had been sentenced to two years and three months for trafficking in stolen property and forgery.

One day soon, the two brothers agreed, they would pool their money to buy a moving truck and start a business of their own.

“We were looking forward to one of the first really happy Christmases in a long time,” Johnston said. “Instead, we spent it grieving.”

Relatives of Rzechula, a friend of Cade’s and the other St. Petersburg man killed in the Dec. 15 crash, confirmed his identity but declined an interview request. An online obituary said Rzechula was from Spring Hill and had two children.

“My heart is broken, you were taken from us so suddenly,” wrote his sister Beth Smith. “We will all cherish all the memories we have of you. People use to tell me we were twins, now I feel like we were because a piece of my heart is gone.”

Jason Rzechula, left, shown here with his sister Beth Smith, died Dec. 15 on Interstate 4 in Tampa when the car in which he rode was hit from behind.
Jason Rzechula, left, shown here with his sister Beth Smith, died Dec. 15 on Interstate 4 in Tampa when the car in which he rode was hit from behind. [ Beth Smith ]
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