tampabay.com

Hit-run deaths haunt witness

Early edition: A driver who led police to a suspect was at first wrongly seen as a factor in the crash.

By REBECCA CATALANELLO
Published January 4, 2007


TAMPA — James Weber hasn’t been able to get the gruesome scene out of his head since it unfolded before him a week ago.

Weber was on the Courtney Campbell Parkway Dec. 28 when the bodies of a 42-year-old man and a 4-year-old boy went flying into the air like dolls  after being struck by a hit-and-run driver in a sport-utility vehicle next to him.

What the 55-year-old Clearwater man did next helped police make a speedy arrest: He followed the Ford Explorer, jotted down the tag number and got in touch with police.

“It was wrong,” Weber said this week, explaining what went through his mind as he tailed the suspect vehicle. “It was wrong to leave the scene of an accident. When he took off, I just took off too.”

At the wreck scene, Tampa police indicated Weber, who was driving a Chrysler PT Cruiser, may have blocked the view of the Explorer when he slowed to let the pedestrians cross.

But more detailed information from Weber and police indicates the PT Cruiser was so far from the intersection where the pedestrians crossed that it could not have obstructed the view from the SUV that killed them.

“The detective didn’t feel that he caused the accident at all,” police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said Thursday.
In fact, police are grateful for Weber’s quick actions in following the suspect slowly and cautiously, then contacting police with details.

Weber was driving home from work in Tampa close to 7 p.m. that Thursday.

He was accelerating from the red light at Rocky Point Drive when he saw what looked like a child and an adult stepping off a concrete median ahead of him in an attempt to cross the four westbound lanes, he said.

They wavered, ran

About 500 feet before the intersection, Weber said, he slowed. But the car to the right of him, a tan Explorer, continued forward.

As Weber got closer, the pedestrians, 4-year-old Joshua Angel Morrow of Clearwater and 42-year-old Robert Bishop Jr. of Largo, stepped back on the median, then into the street again and darted across, the adult dragging the child behind by his hand, Weber said.

“He probably could have made that light, but he was pulling the kid with him,” Weber said.

He figures he was about 300 feet from the pedestrians when he saw them run into the path of the Explorer.
Initial reports said Weber slowed and stopped to let the walkers cross — a scenario that raised questions about whether the PT Cruiser did the right thing, since there was no crosswalk and a continuous green light.

Weber said the reports might have left the impression he was so close that he could have waved the pedestrians across. But that’s not something he would ever do, he said.

“It’s not an ideal situation when you have two pedestrians standing on a median in a high-traffic area,” said McElroy, the police spokeswoman, saying Weber did the best thing he could have in the situation.
Bail set at $15,000

Armando Lopez-Canada, 26, was still being held in lieum of $15,000 bail Thursday at Orient Road Jail on charges he left the scene of an accident causing death.

The night of the accident, Robert Bishop’s truck broke down as he was traveling from Tampa to Clearwater. He and Joshua Morrow, the grandson of a childhood friend, had crossed the causeway to get a drink for the boy.

They were headed back when they were struck.

Weber said he feels badly for everyone involved. “I do not feel the driver of the vehicle did wrong, except he left the scene of the accident.”

Police say Lopez-Canada got a driver’s license using a Mexican passport and immigration paperwork. Prosecutor Kim Seace said Immigration and Naturalization Service has a hold on Lopez-Canada.

If he is prosecuted and sentenced on the charge, he would be required to serve out the sentence here, then could face deportation.

Times staff writer Erika Vidal contributed to this report. Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at (813) 226-3383
or rcatalanello@sptimes.com.