The family that owns a confiscated Echo hires a noted attorney and plans a news conference.
TAMPA - After being sought for days, the driver of a car involved in a hit-and-run crash that killed two brothers will come forward at a 10 a.m. news conference today at the office of attorney Barry Cohen.
Cohen, a powerhouse attorney with a list of high-profile cases, is representing the driver and the Porter family of Land O'Lakes, which owns the 2000 Toyota Echo confiscated Friday night by authorities at the family's home.
Hillsborough sheriff's officials have said they believe the Toyota Echo was involved in the accident Wednesday in which four siblings were hit as they crossed 22nd Street near 142nd Avenue in Tampa, killing two and injuring two more.
Sheriff's officials, who have been searching for the driver of the Echo and two other cars identified at the accident scene, were surprised by Cohen's announced news conference. Sheriff's spokesman Cpl. Danny Tewmey, said it was "news to us."
Cohen has a long and often acrimonious history with the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office, which he has sued and sharply criticized over its handling of the Sabrina Aisenberg missing baby case.
Asked who would be at the news conference, Cohen investigator Kevin Kalwary first said the "whole family," and then elaborated to say the "parents" and "the driver." He refused to comment about any pending criminal charges or negotiations with authorities.
The Toyota is registered to James G. Porter and his 23-year-old daughter Kelly M. Porter, both listed at the same Land O'Lakes address, a home that property records show is owned by Mr. Porter and Lillian C. Porter. A second daughter, Jennifer, 28, also lives in the house, according to records, and it is she who most often drives the Toyota Echo, said neighbors and a store owner next to her business.
Hillsborough deputies and investigators from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement arrived at the Porter home Friday night, poring over the two-door silver car before hauling it away on a flatbed tow truck, witnesses said.
The Toyota had damage to the driver's side window, the bumper and the hood, according to a Pasco County sheriff's report.
Authorities released no new information about the case on Sunday, nor did they give any indication that they had identified who was driving the Echo.
No one answered the door at the Porter home Sunday afternoon. A newspaper sat in the driveway of the house in a cul-de-sac of one-story homes and neatly trimmed lawns. The blinds were drawn and neighbors said they haven't seen the Porters or heard their dogs since Thursday afternoon.
Jennifer Porter is the owner/director of the Dance Arts Center of Tampa on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, according to corporate records. The store, located in the Shoppes at New Tampa plaza just over the county line in Pasco County at State Road 56, was locked on Sunday and the lights were out. Her sister, Kelly, also is involved in dance, having studied and taught in Miami and Honolulu.
Brian Nguyen, manager of Nail World adjacent to the dance center, said Sunday that he recalled seeing the Toyota Echo parked in the back of the shopping plaza behind the dance center about 8 p.m. either Wednesday or Thursday as he took trash to the garbage bin.
The Echo, which Nguyen said was regularly driven by Jennifer Porter, was parked facing a wall, but he could see a cracked driver's side windshield from where he stood toward the rear of the driver's side of the vehicle as he returned to the back door of his store.
Nguyen also noticed a large amount of water under the Echo, he said. The area was well illuminated by overhead lights, he said.
"I was very surprised because she never parks her car back there," he said. Nguyen said he returned to his store without asking anything of Jennifer, who was in the dance center at the time, because he doesn't know her well.
Eleven miles away, at the scene of the accident Sunday afternoon, balloons and teddy bears remained clustered off the sides of 22nd Street.
Killed in Wednesday's crash were Bryant Wilkins, who would have turned 14 on Friday, and his 3-year-old brother Durontae Caldwell. Their sister, 8-year-old Aquina Wilkins, was upgraded to good condition Sunday at St. Joseph's Children's Hospital. Her brother, LaJuan Davis, 2, was discharged Friday night. Their mother, Lisa Wilkins, declined through a friend to comment to a reporter regarding the driver.
Still being sought are a white van that authorities think passed through the scene filled with witnesses. A Honda Civic, which originally was thought to have struck the children, may or may not have been involved, officials now say.
Cohen, an aggressive, widely known criminal and civil attorney, has been at odds with the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office during his representation of Steve and Marlene Aisenberg, the couple whose infant daughter Sabrina disappeared in 1997. Cohen last year filed suit against the Sheriff's Office and several individuals there, along with federal prosecutors, over their handling of the case. The couple faced federal charges of lying to investigators, but the case against them collapsed amid questions about the evidence and how it was collected.
Cohen's other clients have included former Hillsborough State Attorney E.J. Salcines and William LaTorre, the Pinellas chiropractor acquitted in the deaths of four teenagers in a 1989 boating accident. He recently represented the son of another prominent Tampa lawyer, who was not criminally charged in a traffic crash that killed a 33-year-old nurse.
- Times staff writer Molly Moorhead contributed to this report.