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9 years after fatal crash, driver faces another DUI

Sheriff's deputies pulled Charles Hamilton over on Tampa Road, the same road where he crashed in 1994.

CHRIS TISCH
Published December 6, 2003

EAST LAKE - A man convicted of DUI-manslaughter for a 1994 wreck that killed an Oldsmar couple was recently charged with driving drunk on the same stretch of road where the deadly crash happened nine years ago.

Pinellas County sheriff's deputies pulled over Charles B. Hamilton, 40, on Nov. 2 when they saw him driving the wrong way down Tampa Road. Two motorists swerved to avoid being hit head-on. Tests showed Hamilton's blood-alcohol level was nearly three times the legal limit, authorities said.

It was on that same road, and less than 2 miles away, that Hamilton slammed head-on into a van on Sept. 26, 1994. The crash killed Russell Seedner, 36, and his wife, Holly, 31. It also orphaned their 10-year-old son, Russell II.

Hamilton's blood-alcohol count that night was more than twice the legal limit. He was convicted of DUI-manslaughter and sentenced to 12 years in prison. He was released last year.

"I'm kind of disgusted with it," Russell Seedner II, now 19, said Friday. "That's horrible for all involved. That never should have happened."

Seedner's parents were driving west on Tampa Road near the Lake St. George subdivision when Hamilton's eastbound red Ford Taurus veered over the center line and struck their white Dodge van head-on. The couple, who delivered newspapers for the St. Petersburg Times, were driving to Tarpon Springs to pick up their papers when the 12:55 a.m. crash occurred.

Mrs. Seedner died shortly after the collision. Her husband died at the hospital a month after the crash. Their son was taken in by his grandmother.

Hamilton had a lengthy driving history. His license was revoked for five years in 1988 after he was declared a habitual traffic offender for violations that included a DUI.

About a month after the crash that killed the Seedners, Hamilton again was pulled over and charged with driving without a valid license.

A jury took an hour to convict him, though jurors reduced one manslaughter charge to drunken driving causing serious injury.

Ten-year-old Russell attended the trial, at times sitting in the hall thumbing through Hardy Boys adventures, other times kicking his feet in the courtroom. He hung his head and frowned when the verdict was read.

A judge sentenced Hamilton to 12 years in prison followed by 15 years of probation.

The judge also ordered Hamilton, an electrician with no children, to pay Russell Seedner II $300 per month for 15 years upon his release..

Hamilton's attorney told the judge his client abused alcohol and drugs since he was 13. Hamilton had been decorated in the U.S. Navy, but was demoted for drug use.

While Hamilton sat in prison, Russell Seedner II was growing up without a mom and dad. He and his cocker spaniel moved from Oldsmar to Dunedin to live with his grandmother, Blanche Heath. Russell cringed when friends talked about the time spent with moms and dads.

At age 13, Russell asked his grandmother to take him to the crash site. When he crosses that spot, "it feels like my stomach is just tearing," he said.

Heath has never returned and, in fact, steers around the spot whenever she travels that road.

Despite the loss of his parents, Russell has grown into a fine young man, his grandmother said. He was an Eagle Scout, a member of the high school marching band and the Navy Junior ROTC.

"He doesn't talk about the accident too much," Heath said. "But it's there. You see him tear up once in a while. It was a big trauma in his life. He's survived. He's grown and matured."

When his classes at St. Petersburg College wrap up this summer, he plans to join the Navy - the same branch, ironically, that Hamilton served in.

Hamilton served just over seven years of his prison sentence before his release on Sept. 4, 2002. Two weeks later, his driver's license was reinstated.

Officials with the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles said they plan to investigate if Hamilton's license was improperly reinstated.

Russell said Hamilton has been sending $300 restitution checks since his release, helping him pay for classes. Hamilton was fulfilling his probation until Nov. 2.

At 3:15 a.m. that day, a deputy saw Hamilton driving west in the eastbound lanes of Tampa Road, almost hitting two cars.

The deputy pulled him over and noticed Hamilton had watery eyes and fumbled his wallet when getting his license. The deputy had to support him when he stepped out of his car. He flunked sobriety tests.

Hamilton asked the deputy to let him go home because he was on probation for DUI manslaughter, said Bruce Bartlett, the chief assistant in State Attorney Bernie McCabe's office.

He said Hamilton took two breath tests. One showed him to have a blood alcohol level of .223 percent, the other .226. Florida law presumes drivers to be impaired when their blood alcohol level reaches .08 percent.

"This isn't even a borderline deal," Bartlett said. "This guy is hammered."

Hamilton posted $10,000 bail and was released from jail that day.

On Friday, deputies went to Hamilton's Oldsmar home at 6:15 a.m. and arrested him for violating the probation of his manslaughter charge. He was being held at the Pinellas County Jail Friday night without bail.

Bartlett said Hamilton faces a maximum of about 10 years in prison for the charges. Prosecutors plan to seek the maximum sentence.

Hamilton's attorney said Friday he could not comment on the case.

Russell said he thinks Hamilton should serve time if he's convicted, though he's worried he won't receive restitution if Hamilton is behind bars.

Heath said she is angry. She recalled telling Hamilton in court to get help for his addictions.

"I'm really outraged about this whole thing," she added. "He didn't get the help that he should have. And that's his fault."

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