Hogan wreck tied to speed
Police say the son of the famed wrestler was clearly going too fast before he hit a tree.
By TAMARA EL-KHOURY and LORRI HELFAND, Times Staff Writers
Published August 28, 2007
CLEARWATER - In the driver's seat, a teenager living in the spotlight with a passion for fast cars.
Seated next to him, a young war veteran home from Iraq.
On Monday, the day after paramedics pulled the pair from the wreckage of a 1998 Toyota Celica Supra, the passenger, 22-year-old John J. Graziano, was in critical condition at Bayfront Medical Center.
The driver, Nick Bollea, also known as Nick Hogan, the son of famed wrestler Hulk Hogan, was discharged from the hospital but remained by his friend's side.
"His sole concern is for the wellbeing of his friend," Linda Bollea, Nick's mother, said in a written statement. "On behalf of my family, we ask that your thoughts and prayers be with John and his loved ones."
Clearwater police continued their investigation into why Bollea lost control of the Toyota and hit a Court Street median, causing the car to skid about 25 yards. It then spun around and crashed trunk-first into a palm tree.
Although police have not determined how fast the car was traveling, speed was definitely a factor in the 7:30 p.m. crash, according to police spokesman Wayne Shelor.
"It's clear to everybody that the speed was excessive," he said.
Shelor said drugs and alcohol have not been ruled out as a factor, although Bollea showed no overt signs of impairment at the scene of the crash. Investigators did not find any obvious signs that Bollea was racing another car when he crashed, Shelor said.
No charges have been filed.
Bollea has been in trouble before for driving too fast.
On Aug. 10, Pinellas Park police pulled him over on the 10100 block of U.S. 19 for going 82 mph in a 45 mph zone, according to police. He was cited for speeding in a construction zone with workers present and not wearing a seat belt. His court date was set for Sept. 10.
In April, he was cited for going 106 mph in a 70 mph zone in Osceola County, according to state driving records.
Nick Hogan became a familiar name in households throughout the country after VH-1 made his family the focus of a reality television show, Hogan Knows Best.
But little was known Monday about his connection to Graziano, a 2003 graduate of Dunedin High School.
After graduation, Graziano joined the Marines Corps and twice served two-year tours of Iraq. He returned to his Dunedin home in October.
No one answered the door at his tidy brick home on Curlew Road in Dunedin, which has a U.S. Marine Corps flag hanging outside.
Graziano's family members told a hospital spokesperson that they did not want to comment.
On his MySpace.com and Facebook profiles, Graziano said he likes to surf, snowboard, wakeboard and do anything outdoors. He lists his heroes as the 19 soldiers he fought with in Ramadi, Iraq who "paid the ultimate sacrifice."
At the Hogan's Belleair home, neighbors dropped off care packages for the family Monday afternoon. Reporters and television news crews surrounded the property.
The Hogan family could not be reached for comment. In her written statement, Linda Bollea said her son's injuries were minor, and he had been treated and released from the hospital. She said he remained at Bayfront to be with Graziano and his family.
The Hogans were shooting their series in Miami but returned to the Tampa Bay area full-time a couple of weeks ago.
Bollea's fascination with race cars and a motor sport called drift-car racing or "drifting" was highlighted in various episodes of the VH-1 show.
Drifting is described by racing experts as a competition of style and skill. It involves cars sliding sideways, or drifting, through tight corners of a course.
Bollea failed a couple of attempts to acquire his Formula Drift license but earned the professional license several months ago, said John Pangilinan, a spokesman for Formula Drift, the only professional drifting series in North America.
So far, Bollea has competed in just one professional drifting event, which took place in Atlanta on May 12, Pangilinan said. Bollea has also tested a drifting car at the Gainesville Raceway on "more than one occasion," according to Don Robertson, the raceway's executive general manager.
"He's a nice young fella," Robertson said. "We didn't have any problems."
Times researcher Angie Drobnic Holan and staff writer Jose Cardenas contributed to this report. Tamara El-Khoury can be reached at email@example.com or 727 445-4181. Lorri Helfand can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4155.