Arrest comes a month after fatal crash
Police say the driver's blood-alcohol level was more than four times the legal limit.
By DEMORRIS A. LEE, Times Staff Writer
Published January 17, 2008
Jack Schaffer, 84, was fatally hit by a pickup truck while trying to cross Missouri Avenue on a mobility scooter in December.
[Jim Damaske | Times (2007)]
Jack Schaffer was proud of his WWII service as a paratrooper with the 101st Airborne Division.
Angus T. Davis' truck fatally struck Schaffer's mobility scooter across a busy street.
[Douglas R. Clifford | Times]
Angus T. Davis III's frustration was growing.
On Dec. 12, he struck and killed Jack Schaffer, an 84-year-old decorated Army veteran who was crossing Missouri Avenue in Largo on a mobility scooter.
Police said Davis, 59, smelled of alcohol and had bloodshot, watery eyes at the scene.
But in the days following the crash, Davis seemed primarily concerned with reclaiming his GMC pickup truck, which was impounded by police.
Sgt. George Edmiston, Largo police's traffic homicide investigator, said Davis called the police station often, wanting to know when he could pick up his truck. Taking cabs everywhere was depleting his bank account and his patience, he said. How much longer would he have to wait?
Wednesday, police had an answer for him.
They told Davis to meet them at their headquarters. He agreed, but he later said he ran out of money for a cab. At about 10 a.m., police went to his home and picked him up. Davis was finishing a beer.
Instead of getting his truck, Davis was put in handcuffs and charged with DUI manslaughter.
Sitting in the back seat of the police cruiser, a tear fell from Davis' eye. He declined to comment, saying only he didn't see Schaffer.
Davis' blood-alcohol level was 0.348 after the crash, nearly 4-1/2 times the 0.08 limit at which a Florida driver is considered impaired, police said.
"Most folks can't function with that level of alcohol in their system," Edmiston said.
The arrest brought some comfort to Schaffer's grown children, who were still reeling from the loss of their father.
"I'm very shocked," said Jill Smith of Clearwater, Schaffer's daughter. "I still feel kind of numb. I never, ever thought it would end like this."
Smith said she was glad Davis was off the street. "I'm sorry it took taking my father's life for it to happen," she said.
Schaffer's family has retained Kimberley Kohn of Tampa as its attorney.
At about 2:22 p.m. Dec. 12, Schaffer was crossing at the 900 block of Missouri Avenue, doing what he did every day at that time.
"He was going to Wal-Mart to get some coffee," said his son, Eric Schaffer, who lives in Spokane, Wash. "That was a regular trip for him."
Eric Schaffer said his father had diabetes and had lost a lot of feeling in his lower legs, which made it hard to drive. When he turned 80, he had to take the driver's license test again. He didn't study for it, didn't pass and lost his license, Eric Schaffer said.
So, Jack Schaffer got a mobility scooter. Eric Schaffer said his father was in pretty good shape and the two of them had had a good conversation the week before his death.
"It was really strange," Eric Schaffer said. "I was there Friday, and Wednesday he was killed."
Police said Davis struck Schaffer's scooter on the left side, wedging it underneath the center and right front bumper of the 1997 GMC truck. Police say Davis traveled 146.6 feet before reacting to the crash.
"Davis had a clear, unobstructed view of the roadway and had he not been under the influence of alcohol to the extent that his normal faculties were impaired he would have been able to react" quicker, court documents said.
This was not Davis' first driving under-the-influence charge. He was convicted of the offense in 1992.
While court documents said Davis appeared impaired at the time of the crash, police wanted to take time to fully investigate, waiting a month before Wednesday's arrest. Davis' blood was drawn twice for analysis. Police talked to witnesses at the scene.
"You only get one shot at these cases, and we wanted to make sure we had everything in order," Edmiston said.
Schaffer was a World War II Army veteran who participated in the invasion of Normandy.
He went into the Army in 1942 to become a pilot. Though his father passed the pilot's test, Eric Schaffer said, he didn't weigh enough, so he did the next best thing: jumping out of planes.
As a private, he parachuted into enemy territory in the dark just after midnight June 6, 1944.
He was supposed to land 10 miles inland from Omaha Beach and wait for reinforcements. But things didn't go as planned for him and his fellow paratroopers from the 101st Airborne Division. Many landed off target, got separated or drowned in the English Channel.
Schaffer earned a Purple Heart after being shot in the leg and was awarded a Bronze Star with a V for valor. Two years ago, the French Consulate honored him for his World War II service.
After helping his father run a sweater business in Brooklyn, N.Y., Schaffer moved several times before landing in Orlando. He retired from Lucerne Medical Center, where he worked in maintenance.
In 1997, Schaffer moved to Clearwater, where a few fellow Normandy veterans had settled. They socialized together often.
"He was very proud of his service to his country and it was a big part of who he was," Smith said. "That experience, being in World War II, molded so much of who he was."
News researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this article. Demorris A. Lee can be reached at (727) 445-4174.
[Last modified January 17, 2008, 00:16:16]
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