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Did parent let teens drink, drive?
Prosecutors consider filing charges after a fatal Valrico crash that injured seven.
By ABBIE VANSICKLE
Published July 11, 2007
[Times photo: Ken Helle (2006)]
The cross erected by classmates of Tyler Clark and the tree the Jeep struck during the accident in the early morning in October.
VALRICO – Hours after the deadly car crash, a familiar figure stopped by Christopher Terlizzi's hospital room.
At the time, it seemed a kind gesture by the hospital employee, a woman whose son socialized with Christopher, 16.
"It's a little creepy if you think about it that she knew those children were over there before the accident," said Christopher's father, Anthony Terlizzi, 44. "At the time I thought she was sincere. Maybe she was; maybe she wasn't."
Two months after the Oct. 8 crash that killed one teen and injured seven others, state investigators showed up at the Terlizzis' suburban home.
They said the hospital visitor, Tara McEntarffer, 42, and her boyfriend, Lamar Justice, 42, were suspected of providing alcohol to the teens shortly before the crash.
Prosecutors are reviewing the case to determine whether charges will be filed.
In the days after the crash, all blame focused on a newly installed, unpainted median near the intersection of Bloomingdale Avenue and Bell Shoals Road. Initial reports said Tyler Clark, 17, the driver of the Jeep that crashed, bumped the median in the dark and lost control.
Tyler died at the scene of the crash. The other teens were injured, some severely.
The Terlizzi family is still dealing with Christopher's injuries, including broken ribs, a damaged spleen and lung troubles. He was back in the hospital Tuesday, adding to medical bills of more than $395,000.
Turns out the median wasn't the problem, according to a final report released by the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office. It blames a driving distraction -- switching radio stations, plus overcrowding -- eight teens squeezed into the Jeep Sahara -- and alcohol.
An autopsy concluded Tyler was driving with a blood-alcohol level of 0.10. State law presumes a driver impaired at a level of 0.08 and above, although, because he was under 21, Tyler was not legally allowed any alcohol.
Talks with teens led to news about party
A crash investigator noted that the Jeep didn't hit the median.
Those findings sparked an inquiry by a new state program called Identifying Contributors to Alcohol Related Events.
That investigation is the reason the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office didn't publicly release Tyler's autopsy results or disclose the crash was alcohol-related, said sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter. The Department of Business and Professional Regulations sent investigators to talk with the teens, to find out how Tyler got alcohol.
The teens told of a party at McEntarffer's pink stucco home on a cul-de-sac in suburban Valrico, said agency spokeswoman Alexis Antonacci. McEntarffer has a teen son who was friends with those in the Jeep, she said.
The couple was at home and knew of the underage drinking, the investigators concluded.
They turned the case over to prosecutors last week, said Assistant State Attorney Pam Bondi.
McEntarffer and Justice could not be reached for comment. McEntarffer has no state criminal record, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Justice was arrested in 1985 on a cocaine charge that was later dismissed, records show.
Couple was known for having parties
Neighbor Valerie Dahl, 23, lives across the street and used to babysit for the family. She said the couple was known in the neighborhood for partying.
"That family's been causing problems for years," she said.
Tyler's mom, Denise Clark, 43, said she learned of the alcohol test results a few weeks after the crash. She doesn't understand why her son would drink and drive.
"I'm not saying that my son didn't do it," she said. "I just know that was something he was totally against, drinking and driving."
Tyler got off work at Papa John's Pizza about 8 that night, then went out with friends until the crash, which happened just after midnight, she said. She said she doesn't know McEntarffer or Justice and didn't think the other kids in the Jeep were close friends.
She doesn't know what happened at the party, but Tyler's father spoke with him about an hour before the crash, and he sounded fine, she said.
When she learned Tyler may have received alcohol from adults – from parents – she was furious.
"It's like, how can you let a child drink and let him drive away from that?" she asked.
It has been a confusing and horrific time since the accident, she said. The family is still trying to understand what happened, and it was terrible to be told about the median and then see the report of alcohol. Clark just made it through her first weekend without crying, just in time to get the latest news about the house party.
"We just want to know the truth," she said. "We want to know what happened."
Victim's father is left with one question
That seems to be the common thread among all the families.
If the kids were drinking at McEntarffer's home, why didn't she mention it right away, at the hospital? That's what Christopher's father wonders.
"She never mentioned about them being over there until later on," he said. "She never actually said that they were there."
Christopher is a long way from recovery after suffering six broken ribs, a bruised brain and kidney damage, among other things, his father said.
He described McEntarffer and Justice as "the nicest couple that you want to meet," but Terlizzi said if they provided alcohol, they should be punished.
"If they did allow that, they got to pay the piper," he said.
Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Abbie VanSickle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3373.