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Teen injured riding on running board of friend's SUV

The driver was charged with fleeing the scene after the 15-year-old fell or jumped off the vehicle.

NORA KOCH
Published June 22, 2004

PALM HARBOR - A moment of horseplay over the weekend resulted in injuries to one teenager and the arrest of another after the first youth tried to ride the outside of a moving SUV, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

The passenger, identified by the highway patrol as Dung Nguyen, 15, was standing on the running board of a moving Nissan Pathfinder about 6:40 p.m. Saturday when he fell or jumped onto Lake St. George Drive. Troopers said the vehicle was going north at about 25 mph when the accident occurred.

Nguyen, whose address was not available Monday, was taken to Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg by helicopter.

He suffered minor injuries and was released Saturday evening, according to troopers.

The driver, Justin M. Paquette, 17, of Palm Harbor, was arrested at his home a short time later and charged with leaving the scene of a crash with serious injury, a felony.

"He got nervous," said Paquette's mother, Linda, in a telephone interview Monday.

He was also charged with driving on a suspended license, a misdemeanor, and cited for allowing a passenger to ride on the exterior.

According to Linda Paquette, Justin Paquette was driving home from working on some lawns in the neighborhood. He encountered Nguyen, who got on the running board of the SUV.

"When he saw a police officer, he jumped off, and that's how he got hurt," she said.

Florida law says passengers cannot sit on the outside of a moving vehicle, except for the bed of a pickup truck.

When the law is violated, primary responsibility is given to the driver, highway patrol spokesman Larry Coggins said Monday. The charge, allowing a passenger to ride on the exterior, is a moving violation that carries a fine of up to $100.

- Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Nora Koch can be reached at 727 771-4304 or nkoch@sptimes.com

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