Trial in fatal crash set to start Monday
By CHASE SQUIRES, Times Staff Writer
DADE CITY -- A driver accused of slamming into an off-duty Zephyrhills police detective and his wife last year, killing them, is scheduled to face trial Monday.
Jose Rodriguez-Ernandez, 21, was arrested after the June 9 crash that killed Detective Harvey "Butch" Hillis Jr., 46, and his wife, Donna, 33.
Florida Highway Patrol investigators said Hillis and his wife were riding in their 1996 Chevrolet Blazer heading east on Chancey Road in Zephyrhills about 11 a.m. when a pickup truck driven west on Chancey by Rodriguez-Ernandez turned at State Road 39 and hit the driver's side of Hillis' vehicle, causing it to flip.
According to the patrol, the Hillises were not wearing seat belts. Mrs. Hillis was ejected.
Witness Patrick Dempsey told investigators Rodriguez-Ernandez's pickup was severely damaged. He said he saw passenger Roberto Ramirez-Alfaro, 25, get out of the truck, run a few steps toward the Hillises' vehicle, then get back in the pickup as the two men drove away.
The battered truck made it less than a mile before the engine failed.
Both men in the pickup initially were charged with leaving the scene of a fatal wreck, but the charge against Ramirez-Alfaro was dropped.
Rodriguez-Ernandez has been in the Pasco County jail in Land O'Lakes in lieu of $55,000 bail since his arrest.
Prosecutor Manny Garcia said Friday he could not say for sure if Rodriguez-Ernandez's trial would take place as scheduled Monday or be postponed.
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