STEVE THOMPSON and JAMIE THOMPSON
The DUI manslaughter arrest is only the latest in a string of automotive tragedies.
Charlton Oliver Jr. said he was sorry for a high-speed 1994 accident that left a young man riding in his car severely brain-damaged. "It was a stupid thing ... It won't happen again," he said at the time, teary-eyed.
But on Friday, Oliver was arrested at his Zephyrhills home on DUI manslaughter charges in connection with a crash that killed 33-year-old Shelly Bingham of Dade City.
Oliver and Bingham were on their second or third date the early morning of Nov. 23, 2003, said Bingham's mother, Jody Harp.
They were headed south on Coats Road. Oliver, 44, crossed the center line, ran off the shoulder and slammed into a tree, authorities say. Bingham died in the hospital 11 days later.
A test showed Oliver's blood alcohol level was 0.203. State law presumes a driver is impaired at a level of 0.08.
It was February before Harp learned of Oliver's driving record, which included the 1994 accident, two DUI convictions and a fatal collision with a pedestrian. It also showed one conviction for careless driving and four for speeding.
"My first reaction was what the hell was he still doing on the road?" she said. "It was very hard to understand and it still is."
Oliver was not sentenced to jail in the 1994 accident, in which he drove a carload of people 140 mph down a country lane. The car slid off a curve and flipped.
The wreck left Christian Ward being fed through a tube and speaking with a slur.
One test showed Oliver's blood-alcohol content then to be over 0.08. Another test showed it below that mark.
A jury acquitted Oliver of causing serious personal injury while driving under the influence, a felony. Jurors convicted him instead of culpable negligence, a misdemeanor.
Circuit Judge Wayne Cobb sentenced Oliver to a year of probation and fined him $1,000. His driving rights also were limited for a time to commuting to and from his Tampa job.
In June last year, he hit Levi Singletary, 18, of Dade City as he was walking alongside the road. Singletary, a popular Pasco High School graduate, later died of his injuries.
Oliver was not charged in that crash. The Florida Highway Patrol said it wasn't his fault.
"It was just a terrible set of circumstances and an awful coincidence," FHP spokesman Larry Coggins said Saturday.
On Friday, Oliver was released from the Pasco County Jail on $75,000 bail. He faces charges of DUI manslaughter, manslaughter and culpable negligence. A conviction on the DUI manslaughter charge could bring him a maximum of five years in prison and permanent revocation of his driver's license, Coggins said.
Christian Ward's father was incensed when Oliver avoided jail time in 1994 and furious when he heard about two recent fatal accidents involving Oliver.
"When I found out ...I thought, somebody needs to wake up and take this guy off the road before he wipes out half of Pasco County," David Ward said.
Ward tracked down the Harp and Singletary families and told them about his son. The families met for dinner in Dade City and discussed how they could make sure Oliver never harmed anyone again. They decided to call authorities, prosecutors and reporters. They say their efforts caused authorities to act.
"I wasn't going to let this guy go on his merry way," said Ward, of Riverview.
Before he stepped into Oliver's Camaro, Christian Ward was an outgoing 23-year-old, active, playing tennis and hockey in high school and studying photography at a Boston college, his father said.
Now he spends his days in a Bradenton nursing home, unable to talk, feed himself or walk. Now 33, his condition has only gotten worse, his father said.
On Saturday, David Ward went to see his son. He took him out on a patio overlooking a pond and told him that Oliver had been arrested. His son just stared, not understanding.
But Ward was relieved.
"This is long overdue," he said.