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He faces a felony reckless driving count and an alcohol charge.
By TAMARA EL-KHOURY, Times Staff Writer
Published November 8, 2007
[Jim Damaske | Times]
CLEARWATER - Nick Bollea had the keys to fast cars and often sped around town with his friends.
"This is how they always drive," his friend Barrett Lawrance, 27, told Clearwater police investigators, referring to Bollea and his friend Daniel Jacobs, 22.
And that's exactly what witnesses said Bollea, the 17-year-old son of professional wrestler Hulk Hogan, and Jacobs were doing moments before Bollea crashed his yellow Toyota Supra into a palm tree on Aug. 26.
Since then, authorities have said virtually nothing about the wreck that seriously injured Bollea's friend and passenger, John Graziano, 22.
But with Bollea's arrest Wednesday on a felony charge of reckless driving with serious bodily injury, police released details about the hours and moments before the wreck.
The investigation describes a carefree Sunday afternoon where Bollea, his famous father and two friends cruised around on the family's boat.
At some point, according to police, Bollea drank alcohol. Two hours after the wreck, alcohol remained in his blood, police said. The level was about half that at which Florida law considers a driver to be impaired, but he still faces an underage alcohol charge.
Bollea turned himself in Wednesday morning and arrived at the Pinellas County Jail in handcuffs. He was booked and released after posting $10,000 bail.
The main charge is a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Prosecutors charged Bollea as an adult "based on the seriousness of the facts and circumstances of the case," Assistant State Attorney Scott Rosenwasser said.
If Graziano dies, prosecutors could upgrade the charges.
"Everything would have to be evaluated at the time," Rosenwasser said.
In a statement made after his release, Bollea's two attorneys emphasized that Bollea wore a seat belt and Graziano did not - a point that could play a role in any lawsuit against Bollea.
Morris "Sandy" Weinberg Jr., one of Bollea's lawyers, said evidence will show that Bollea wasn't driving at a high speed.
"What you are going to see is this was an accident," he said.
Police said that at the time of the crash Bollea's car was going faster than 60 mph in a 40-mph zone.
A 10-page sworn statement from Clearwater police investigator Todd Turpack detailed events of Aug. 26, starting about 2:30 or 3 p.m. on a boat owned by Hulk Hogan, whose real name is Terry Bollea.
Lawrance, Jacobs and Terry and Nick Bollea were on the boat, according to the statement. They first stopped at Shepard's Tiki Bar on Clearwater Beach, but didn't stay because of a large crowd.
They moved on to Three Rooker Island, later returning to Shepard's. There, Lawrance said he saw Nick Bollea drinking on the boat, but could not say if the drinks contained alcohol, authorities said.
Two cars set off
They all returned to the Bollea house and eventually left for dinner at Arigato Japanese Steak House.
Nick Bollea drove his Toyota Supra with Graziano in the passenger seat. Jacobs drove the Bolleas' silver Dodge Viper with Lawrance as his passenger.
Jacobs told investigators the two cars were going 55-60 mph at the time of the accident but amended that to 70 mph when interviewed again. Jacobs said he had four beers and a 32-ounce rum runner earlier that day.
Witness Eric Sherman told police that Bollea's Supra looked like it was fishtailing as it traveled east on Chestnut Street, which turns into Court Street. The Supra and the Viper were pacing each other, Sherman said, getting ready to race.
Witness Denise Cirella was eastbound on Chestnut Street when she stopped at a red light at Myrtle Avenue. Bollea was on her right; Jacobs on her left. She told investigators she saw that Bollea "grimaced" at Jacobs. When the light turned green, both cars tore off, she said.
Another witness, Despina Sibley, said the two cars were playing "cat and mouse."
When Bollea lost control of his car and hit the tree, Jacobs said he returned to the scene and tried to call Terry Bollea. He couldn't reach him, so he drove to the Bollea house to tell him about the crash.
Jacobs of Dunedin was not a direct cause of the wreck even though he was racing, according to police. Officials issued a summons for him to appear in court. He faces a charge of reckless driving, a misdemeanor. He did not return calls from the Times on Wednesday.
Bollea told medical personnel that he crashed because "I was driving the car and lost control due to a wet, rainy road and hit a tree."
A test of Bollea's blood about two hours after the crash revealed that he had an ethanol serum level of 0.055. Ethanol serum generally registers 15-20 percent higher than blood-alcohol level, Rosenwasser said. Bollea's level was lower than the 0.08 blood-alcohol level at which Florida law presumes a driver to be impaired, but higher than the 0.02 at which anyone younger than 21 faces a license suspension.
Rosenwasser, the prosecutor, said he does not know who gave alcohol to the underage Bollea. No charges were filed against Terry Bollea since the other people on the boat were over the legal drinking age, he said.
Graziano, a Marine who served in Iraq, suffered brain damage and has remained comatose at Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg.
A 'piece of justice'
Attorneys representing Graziano's parents said they support the decision of the State Attorney's Office to charge Bollea.
"We trust their judgment," said George Tragos, the attorney representing Graziano's mother, Debra Graziano. "They have the resources and the investigative tools to make a proper decision, and we're not going to second-guess them."
Tragos said John Graziano is responding to more stimuli and will soon be moved to the Veterans Administration Hospital in Tampa.
The news of Bollea's arrest encouraged Linda Berry-Robinson and her daughter, Ashley Berry, who said she has dated John for nearly seven years.
"There's never going to be enough justice for the loss of John," Berry-Robinson said. "We've gotten a small piece of justice today, and hopefully when it goes through the legal system and the court system we will see a bigger piece of justice."
Both women said they have never known John to not wear a seat belt. They also both said they would like to see Bollea express some remorse.
Bollea "sits in the hospital and he has no remorse on his face," said Berry, 21. "No remorse whatsoever."
When she heard of the arrest, Berry said, "it's about time."
"It's finally nice to see something being done about it," she said.
Times researcher Angie Drobnic Holan contributed to this report. Tamara El-Khoury can be reached at (727) 445-4181 or email@example.com.
-Reckless driving involving serious bodily injury.
-Using a motor vehicle in the commission of a felony.
-Being a driver under 21 operating a vehicle with a breath-alcohol content of 0.02 percent or higher.
-Having illegal window tinting.
[Last modified November 8, 2007, 00:24:58]
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