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Other driver wasn't Hogan

The car racing with the wrestler's son may be Hulk Hogan's but he wasn't in it.

By TAMARA EL-KHOURY and JACOB H. FRIES
Published August 30, 2007


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photo
[Jim Damaske | Times]
Crash victim John Graziano's sister, Christin Carson, left, hugs his girlfriend, Ashley Berry, at a prayer vigil Wednesday in Clearwater. | More photos

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CLEARWATER - Clearwater police interviewed the driver of a silver Dodge Viper at the scene of Nick Bollea's car crash Sunday, but it was not the teen's father, famed wrestler Hulk Hogan.

Witnesses said they saw Bollea, 17, racing against the Viper in his yellow Toyota Supra moments before the crash, which left his passenger, 22-year-old John J. Graziano, in critical condition.

Clearwater police spokesman Wayne Shelor would not release the name of the Viper's driver but said it wasn't Hogan, whose real name is Terry Bollea.

"Mr. Bollea was not in a car, was not driving the Viper and had no proximity to the wreck," Shelor said Wednesday.

Police have not said whether Hogan owned the Viper involved in the incident. According to state records, Hogan owns a 1994 roadster, a 2003 roadster and a 2006 roadster coupe. There are only about 130 of the distinctive Vipers registered in Pinellas County.

No charges have been filed.

Rabih Cheaib, 20, who watched the high-speed race and was at the scene shortly after the crash, said he saw the Viper return to the area after the accident. He recognized the driver as Dunedin resident Danny Jacobs, whom he knew through friends.

However, Cheaib didn't know if Jacobs was driving the Viper at the time of the crash.

Cheaib said he watched police interview Jacobs.

"He was upset," Cheaib said. "His head was down most of the time."

Jacobs did not return messages left on his cell phone. His father, reached at his work, declined to comment.

Meanwhile, Graziano, a U.S. Marine home from Iraq, is in a medically-induced coma at Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg, friends say. They held a prayer vigil for him Wednesday night at Glen Oaks Park on Court Street, just blocks from the site of the accident.

Ashley Berry, Graziano's longtime girlfriend, addressed the crowd through tears. "He doesn't deserve this," she said. "It was a freak accident. They were on their way to dinner."

But Berry told the crowd that Graziano was slowly getting better.

"He's coming out little by little," she said. "It's going to take time."

Also Wednesday, new information came to light about Bollea's whereabouts before the crash.

Gerri Shephard, a manager at Shephard's, an entertainment resort on Clearwater Beach, said that Nick Bollea, his father and at least one friend were at the resort on Sunday between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. She said they stayed on a boatoutside the tiki bar.

Nick Bollea and the friend attempted to enter the tiki bar, Shephard said, but weren't allowed in because they didn't have proper I.D.

The Bolleas have hired a local defense attorney who lists representing clients in driving under the influence cases as a speciality. J. Kevin Hayslett confirmed he was retained by the Bolleas.

Hayslett said he could not comment on the investigation.

A Bayfront Medical Center spokeswoman said Graziano was in critical condition Wednesday.

Ashley Berry's mother, Linda Berry-Robinson, said she was confident Graziano would recover.

She said Graziano joined the Marines because "he wanted to do something for his country and his family."

But the 2003 Dunedin High School graduate also had a soft spot, she said.

A few weeks after he arrived in Iraq, he asked Berry-Robinson to send candy, soccer balls and dolls to hand out to the Iraqi children.

"You know he made it through Iraq, he made it through that hell, he surely can make it through this," Berry-Robinson said.

Times researchers Caryn Baird and Angie Drobnic Holan contributed to this report. Tamara El-Khoury can be reached at tel-khoury@sptimes.com or 727 445-4181.

[Last modified August 30, 2007, 00:27:54]


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