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Driver found guilty in fatal DUI

The Tampa man killed a woman pushing her baby son in a stroller across Fowler Avenue.

By CHRISTOPHER GOFFARD
Published March 19, 2004

TAMPA - A 37-year-old Tampa man was convicted Thursday of DUI manslaughter for running down a Tampa woman who was pushing a baby stroller across an eight-lane road.

On the evening of Aug. 18, 2002, Mario Luna Zertuche was driving a Toyota Supra down Fowler Avenue when he struck Lynda Cenatus, a 27-year-old single mother and Haitian immigrant. Witnesses said her last act was to push her 7-month-old son, Sergeley, to safety.

The baby survived. Cenatus landed 40 to 50 feet away on the asphalt with fatal injuries.

Before the crash, prosecutor John Rogers told jurors, Zertuche had been drinking and attending a bikini contest in Clearwater. The prosecutor estimated Zertuche's blood alcohol level was between 0.11 and 0.16 percent. The law presumes impairment at 0.08 percent.

Defense attorney Harvey Hyman described the victim as "a dark woman wearing dark clothing" who was jaywalking across a major road where a driver wouldn't expect to see a pedestrian.

Zertuche was not speeding, the defense attorney said, but rather driving "straight as an arrow" and "minding his own business on his way to get some Chinese food, which is his American right to do."

The defense attorney called it an unavoidable accident that no driver, not even a sober one, could have avoided.

The jury of three men and three women disagreed, taking about an hour and 45 minutes to return a guilty verdict. Zertuche could face up to 15 years in prison at sentencing Monday.

In order to convict under the DUI-manslaughter statute, the jury only needed to find that the defendant contributed to the crash, even if the victim played a role.

- Christopher Goffard can be reached at 226-3337.

[Last modified March 19, 2004, 01:20:38]


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