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Charges dismissed against ex-officer

By CARRIE JOHNSON, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 12, 2002

INVERNESS -- Criminal charges were dismissed Wednesday against Christopher Thompson, the former Crystal River police officer who struck and killed a pedestrian while driving to work.

Circuit Judge Ric A. Howard granted a defense request to dismiss charges of vehicular homicide and reckless driving.

Thompson, now 27, was driving his 1998 Ford truck along County Road 488 the night of July 10, 2001 when he hit Randy G. Leathers, an 18-year-old Beverly Hills resident who was walking to a friend's house to watch a movie.

In her motion to dismiss, defense attorney Denise VanNess said there was no way her client could have avoided the collision with the teen. Several witnesses said they saw Leathers walking in the middle of the road and weaving as though intoxicated.

"The pedestrian's conduct of wearing dark clothing without any reflective devices or lighting, walking in the roadway on a rural highway, under the influence of drugs, made the pedestrian . . . an equally willing and foolhardy participant in bad conduct which caused his death," she wrote.

Prosecutors argued that even if Leathers had been walking in the roadway -- and at least one witness said he was on the side of the road -- there was still enough evidence to support a charge of vehicular homicide, a second-degree felony.

"Simply because the victim was walking in the roadway wearing dark clothing in the dark does not relieve the defendant of criminal responsibility," wrote Assistant State Attorney Richard Buxman.

Thompson was driving to his 11 p.m. shift at the Crystal River Police Department, where he had worked since January 2001. After striking Leathers, Thompson swerved and smashed into a utility pole. He was not injured.

Following the crash, Thompson's spotty driving record became an object of public scrutiny. Since 1993, Thompson has been issued 15 traffic tickets and been cited in three car wrecks.

Thompson's driver's license also has been suspended twice.

He resigned from the Crystal River force a week after the July accident. Police Chief Jim Farley said at the time that Thompson was "accepting the handwriting on the wall."

-- Carrie Johnson can be reached at 860-7309 or cjohnson@sptimes.com.

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