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There's a moral in this tragic tale of two angry drivers

By SUE CARLTON
Published April 4, 2006


Sometimes it's hard to keep in mind all those times we've read about, where cooler heads might have made all the difference in the world.

What happened between two strangers along a road in Seminole one January night reads like a script from Law & Order.

Except one man is really and tragically dead, and another man's life hinges on whether authorities believe he committed a crime.

Last week, Times reporter Jacob H. Fries told the story of Angelo Fiorino, a drummer and tile installer who was driving his pickup home on Starkey Road when he got into a traffic spat with a man in a Mercedes.

If you believe Fiorino's version - and he's the only living witness - there's not a lot of points for good citizenship here.

Fiorino says the Mercedes came into his lane and made his pickup swerve. The Mercedes driver would later insist Fiorino hit him, Fiorino says.

Fiorino says he hit his horn, then gave the Mercedes driver the finger as he passed. He says the Mercedes tailgated him. (It turned out the driver was taking pictures of Fiorino's license plate and truck.)

At a traffic light, the Mercedes driver got out, pounded the truck window, flashed a badge and made Fiorino go to a parking lot, Fiorino says.

The Mercedes had two marks, probably from the truck's tire, Fiorino said.

Fiorino says they gave each other their insurance cards. After he wrote everything down, he walked back to the Mercedes, where the man was sitting, slumped. He says when he shook him, the man made a snoring noise.

Fiorino says he thought the driver was drunk. He took back his insurance card, along with the paper the man had written on. And he left.

But this was more than just a slightly scary story about an angry fender bender.

The Mercedes driver was 68-year-old Thomas Campbell, a retired detention deputy who listed "coronary artery disease" when he applied for disability retirement. Authorities believe he died of a heart attack.

Now the state attorney is deciding whether Fiorino, a man with a single 8-year-old speeding ticket and no criminal record, should be charged.

We'd all hope that if we needed help, any random nearby person would call a cop or an ambulance or try to help us themselves.

But if they didn't, they wouldn't go to jail for it.

Florida law doesn't say you have to help a stranger who's hurt or even dying. We have a Good Samaritan Act, but that's to keep people from getting sued when they do try to help. (What a world, huh?)

The law does say if you're in a car accident that causes somebody to be hurt or killed, you have to stay there. Leaving the scene of a crash involving death is a felony.

But according to Fiorino, the accident was minor, and Campbell was pretty active afterward. If you believe Fiorino, he didn't have a reason to think the Mercedes driver was hurt, much less about to die.

"My client didn't know (Campbell) was dying from a heart attack. He's not a medical doctor," says John Trevena, the lawyer Fiorino hired when it became clear he could be charged. "He made a logical assumption that this person is passed out drunk."

Tragedy, yes. Regrettable, very much so. But a crime? I don't see it.

Campbell's son, a California real estate lawyer, has said he doubts Fiorino's story. And who wouldn't wonder if Campbell might have been saved had Fiorino called for help, even if he believed this was a passed-out drunk?

Most of us have felt unreasonable, steaming anger at a creeping driver who won't budge or a guy who cuts us off so sharply we have to hit the brakes. We want to tailgate, make an ugly gesture, maybe worse.

Sometimes it's hard to keep in mind all those times we've read about, where cooler heads might have made all the difference in the world.

Sue Carlton can be reached at carlton@sptimes.com

[Last modified April 4, 2006, 21:24:02]


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