A Florida man, involved in a May accident on Interstate 75 outside of Ocala that killed three people will have his driver’s license suspended for six months and will have to pay a $1,000 fine, a judge said Monday.
The Ocala Star-Banner reports Marion County Judge Thomas Thompson III found 23-year-old Troy Owens guilty of a civil citation for failing to use due care. Owens was 22 at the time of the accident.
Thompson said that after listening to the testimony of state troopers who worked the crash, as well as the testimony of other motorists who witnessed the accident, he had reason to believe Owens was driving at “excessive speed” when his truck left the highway and plowed into another crash scene at the side of the road.
The impact of Owen’s truck, which was towing a U-Haul trailer, killed state Trooper Chelsea Richard, tow truck driver John Duggan and Robert Phillips, an area businessman.
Richard was investigating an accident that Phillips’ daughter had been in involved in earlier. Duggan was on site to tow away the wreckage.
Sergeant Tracy Hisler-Pace, a Florida Highway Patrol Public Affairs Officer, said at the time that the possibility of criminal charges was being explored during the investigation.
“This accident investigation is very complicated and the homicide portion of the investigation will take time,” Hisler-Pace told the Ocala Post. “This is a very tragic situation for everyone involved and FHP thanks everyone for their patience during this trying time.”
But the State Attorney’s Office declined to file charges. The office released a report in September saying that the investigation concluded Owens had violated only two state traffic statutes. Another driver involved in the crash, John Lindecamp, also violated a statute, the report said.
According to a story from The Gainesville Sun, FHP Cpl. Robert C. Hinton wrote in the report that the two drivers had “contributed” to the deaths of Richard, Duggan and Phillips, but concluded that “no criminal traffic laws were broken by either Mr. Owens or Mr. Lindecamp.”
Witnesses at Owens’ hearing Monday reported seeing him driving at a high rate of speed before the accident and swerving in and out of lanes. Owens took the stand and disputed those accounts.
His attorney, Pravesh Bobby Rumalla, said in a closing statement that as Owens neared the crash site and tried to get over, his truck was struck by the car driven by Lindecamp, forcing him off the road.
“We would point to the culprit in this case as John Lindecamp,” Rumalla said.
In the end, the judge said that didn’t matter and he wasn’t there to determine who caused the crash but only to decide the matter of the traffic citation.
“Three people are dead because of the way individuals operated their vehicles,” Thompson said.
Family members of the crash victims said they were disappointed that the license suspension and fine were all that the law would allow.
“The laws need to be changed,” said Bonny Duggan, the wife of the tow truck driver who was killed. “It's not fair.”
Court records indicate that the citation was Owens’ fifth for which he had been adjudicated guilty in recent years. Previous citations included driving at unlawful speed and failing to drive in a single lane.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Alan Youngblood/Star-Banner