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    Charge dropped in 1999 accident

    By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published February 17, 2001


    DUNEDIN -- Prosecutors have dropped a criminal charge against a Palm Harbor man accused of speeding down Bayshore Boulevard in his pickup truck when he smashed into a car in a crash that killed two Dunedin women.

    Pinellas-Pasco prosecutors this week decided against filing formal charges against Arlen M. Leiner, 54, who sheriff's deputies said caused the Aug. 28, 1999 crash that killed Beatrice Donoghue, 81, and Ruth A. Berry, 84.

    Pinellas sheriff's deputies charged Leiner with manslaughter by culpable negligence. But prosecutors have the final word on whether to pursue charges.

    A sheriff's accident investigator said that Leiner was traveling 58 mph in a 40 mph zone along Bayshore Boulevard when his Ford collided with a Chevrolet Caprice driven by Donoghue.

    But Pinellas prosecutors said it would have been difficult, if not impossible, to make a manslaughter charge stick at trial because Donoghue pulled her 1999 Chevrolet Cavalier into the path of Leiner's southbound 1998 Ford pickup while making an illegal left turn.

    "There are some cases out there that say that excessive speed alone is not enough to support a manslaughter conviction," said prosecutor Bill Loughery. "It's a very difficult area of the law as to when an accident becomes criminal."

    Leiner, who is self-employed, could not be reached for comment. His Clearwater attorney, Kevin Hayslett, disputes that his client was speeding.

    Hayslett said he hired an independent traffic engineer who, after examining evidence, speaking to witnesses and visiting the scene of the crash, determined that Leiner was not speeding at the time of the crash. That information was presented to prosecutors.

    But Loughery said it played no part in his office's decision.

    "My client had the right of way," Hayslett said. "I think that was the biggest problem. To say that Mr. Leiner is relieved that he no longer faces charges is the understatement of the year."

    If convicted of manslaughter, Leiner faced up to 15 years in prison.

    Mrs. Donoghue's husband, Flip Donoghue, said he did not disagree with the prosecutor's decision and understood why they could not proceed with the case.

    The couple were well-known to area civic leaders. He and his wife were named Mr. and Mrs. Delightful Dunedin in 1996, the city's highest honor for community service.

    Mrs. Donoghue worked on the city's public-relations board and the Toronto Blue Jays advisory committee.

    Berry and Donoghue were neighbors. And Flip Donoghue thinks the two women had been driving out to see an elegant three-story mansion recently built on the waterfront.

    "He showed no remorse at all, and that's what bothered me most," Flip Donoghue, 83, said of Leiner. "He's a lucky man. I hope this has been a lesson to him."

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