Driver in deadly wreck is charged

Published May 5, 2007

TARPON SPRINGS - Four months after the crash that killed Samuel Hipple in Tarpon Springs, authorities have charged the driver of the car he was riding in with DUI manslaughter.

Stephen Rall, 20, of Palm Harbor, was behind the wheel of his 1990 Mustang on Dec. 24, with Hipple at his side. They were westbound on Live Oak Street when Rall lost control of the car and it flipped off the road.

Hipple, 24, of Palm Harbor, a roofer by trade but also a lover of poetry and a former Alaskan king crabber, died on the scene. Rall was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital.

Rall told a paramedic that he had downed three beers that night and that he liked to drive his car fast, according to the affidavit filed in court.

Police said results from two blood tests found he had an alcohol level of .105 and .091 - in excess of the presumed legal limit of .08.

On Wednesday night, Rall was arrested and charged not only with the manslaughter but also with driving with a suspended or revoked license.

He was released from the Pinellas County Jail on $25,250 bail.

Hipple's relatives, however, are still struggling under the weight of his death.

"Our family was absolutely squished by the whole event, just turned upside down," said Coral Sorensen, Hipple's aunt. "Everything is before and after. It just draws a line in your life."

Sorensen remembers her nephew as a handsome and caring man. His girlfriend had become pregnant with his child, Sorensen said, but Hipple died before he ever found out.

One of the worst parts, she said, is that Rall hasn't apologized.

Reached on Friday, Rall denied that.

"I went in person and apologized to his family," he said. "He was like my best friend at the time. He was very close to me. For them to start anything like this is just ridiculous."

Rall said he didn't want to comment further on what happened that night because it could affect his case in court.

Jonathan Abel can be reached at jabel@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4157.