Man arrested in fatal hit-and-run
By ABHI RAGHUNATHAN
Published July 24, 2006
ST. PETERSBURG — David Pierce’s 12th birthday Sunday was his last.
After a pool party, his mother dropped him and a 16-year-old friend at a Wal-Mart Supercenter a mile away from her motel room. She told them to buy a present with some money he’d been given, then walk back.
Halfway home, the two kids approached a stretch of sidewalk along 34th Street S that a contractor had blocked off without state permission. They stepped around it into the dark street around 9:40, just north of 42nd Avenue.
David and his friend were struck by an SUV carrying two men who had been partying at the Suncoast Resort, police said. David’s friend, Samantha Murray, was seriously injured. David died at a hospital. The driver didn’t stop.
On Monday, St. Petersburg police arrested Jeffrey Todd Montgomery, 35, on a charge of leaving the scene of a crash with a fatality and a charge of leaving the scene of a crash with bodily injuries.
Some details of David’s last hours remain unclear; police were still investigating. But it seems he died because of a terrible convergence of other people’s mistakes.
David’s parents are divorced. His mother, Marie Ashford, 28, has been arrested on drug-related charges in recent years. For a time, the boy was raised by other relatives. Ashford regained custody last summer, and a few days ago she moved into a room at the Crystal Inn with David and several other kids.
David’s relatives say he did well in school despite the turmoil. While living with his grandfather in Miami, he made the honor roll at school nearly every semester. His aunt Christina Ashford remembers him as a kid who was “older than his time.”
“He was smart as a whip,” said Donald Ashford, 50, his grandfather. “He was a fantastic kid and an ace at school.”
Pierce celebrated his 12th birthday at the motel’s pool with some friends, including Samantha Murray, police said.
He got some money and wanted to buy a toy car, so his mother took her son and his friend to a Wal-Mart
Supercenter a mile down the road, and told them to walk back after they finished shopping.
An International House of Pancakes being built at the intersection of 34th Street S and 42nd Ave S will anchor a new strip center. On Sunday night, a contractor blocked off the western sidewalk of 34th Street because workers were digging 12 feet deep to access a sewer connection.
Bill Icely, a contractor with Icely Construction, said his company oversaw the work at the building. He said a subcontractor, R. J. Longboat and Sons, didn’t tell him it was doing work that required the sidewalk to be blocked.
R. J. Longboat, of St. Petersburg, does not have a history of safety violations with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Company employees could not be reached for comment Monday. It was unclear if the company had any disciplinary issues with local authorities.
“There was a subcontractor, that unbeknownst to me, closed the sidewalk,” Icely said. “If they had asked me (about blocking the sidewalk) I would have said no.”
Marian Scorza, a spokeswoman with the state Department of Transportation, said companies need to notify the state before they block pedestrian sidewalks. In many cases, she said, companies need to obtain special-use permits and provide alternate accommodations for pedestrians.
But Scorza said no one told the state that the sidewalk on that stretch of 34th Street S would be blocked.
“We are looking into the matter,” she said.
Icely said he notified his insurer and R. J. Longboat about the accident. By Monday afternoon, the work that blocked off the sidewalk had been dismantled and it was open to pedestrians again.
Police said the stretch of road where the accident occurred was dark. The street lights did not appear to be working.
Around the time Pierce and his friend were celebrating their birthday and heading to Wal-Mart, Montgomery was hanging out at the Suncoast Resort, a popular gay club and shopping center. He met another man as they both purchased paraphernalia at a leather shop, police said.
When he was ready to go home for the night, Montgomery drove his father’s white 1996 Chevrolet Blazer. His new friend from the leather shop was the passenger. Police say the passenger was drunk and doesn’t remember much about the drive home.
They were heading south on 34th Street when they ran into Pierce and Murray, police said. Montgomery didn’t stop, and parked the SUV - which was banged up by the accident and missing a side view mirror - around the 1100 block of 34th Avenue N. He and his companion, whose name the police did not release, spent the night at a friend’s house.
On Monday morning, a neighbor who heard the news reports about a hit-and-run accident called police. The passenger in Montgomery’s car also called.
After inspecting the Blazer and talking to the passenger and employees at the resort, police arrested Montgomery Monday afternoon. He had come back to the Suncoast Resort looking for a lost wallet.
“He had no reaction,” said traffic homicide investigator Mike Jockers. “He said he thought he had been drugged that night.”
Police say they haven’t been able to find a valid driver license for Montgomery. They say he just got into town, and employees at the Suncoast resort said they’d seen him several times before.
Pierce’s relatives say they’re happy police caught the driver.
“I’m very pleased,” said his grandfather Donald Ashford. “But before I celebrate, I want to see how the justice system does.”
Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Abhi Raghunathan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8472.
[Last modified July 24, 2006, 21:11:12]
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