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Teenager charged in hit-run that injured Zephyrhills boy

A 7-year-old is in serious condition after the accident near Zephyrhills High; the 18-year-old driver turns himself in and is charged with fleeing the scene.

By CARY DAVIS

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 29, 2000


ZEPHYRHILLS -- Police arrested a Zephyrhills High School student late Monday and charged him with leaving the scene of a hit-and-run accident that seriously injured a 7-year-old boy.

James Tarik Bettis, 18, of 12053 Carmen Ave. in Dade City, was charged with one felony count of leaving the scene of an accident with serious injury. He was held Tuesday in the county jail in Land O'Lakes in lieu of $5,000 bail.

Meanwhile, Jeremy Reeves of 38437 18th Ave. remained in the intensive care unit Tuesday at Tampa General Hospital. He was in serious condition but was expected to survive, a hospital spokeswoman said.

On Tuesday, police were still piecing together details of the accident. They said Bettis had confessed to striking Jeremy and speeding away from the scene.

The accident occurred as Bettis drove his 1976 Cadillac north on 11th Street at 3:30 p.m., said Zephyrhills police Capt. Medford Griffin. Neighbors said the area was congested, as it is every afternoon when Zephyrhills High lets out for the day.

Jeremy was riding his bicycle along 11th Street and was within sight of his house when he was hit by Bettis, police said. Griffin didn't know whether the boy was riding in the road or along the grass shoulder.

Witnesses told police that Bettis was driving erratically, swerving across the road, when he struck Jeremy's bicycle. The boy landed on the roof of the car and was carried about 100 yards before he fell off.

Jeremy was conscious when paramedics loaded him into an ambulance and rushed him to nearby East Pasco Medical Center. He was taken by helicopter to Tampa General later Monday.

Griffin did not know whether Bettis had been speeding or whether he had any passengers in the car.

The search for the driver ended five hours later, when Bettis, accompanied by his parents, walked into the Zephyrhills police station at 8:30 p.m. and told investigators what he had done, Griffin said.

A woman who answered the phone at Bettis' house Tuesday afternoon declined to comment.

Jeremy's parents spent most of Tuesday at their son's bedside and could not be reached for comment.

Christina Moore, who lives next door to the Reeveses, described Jeremy as a "very sweet boy" who loved to rake neighbors' yards and wash their cars.

"He did all this," said Moore, 20, pointing to the piles of leaves scattered around her front yard.

Moore said 11th Street, usually a quiet neighborhood lane, becomes a dangerous thoroughfare every weekday afternoon as students speed away from the high school.

"The kids drive really fast," she said. "It scares me because there are always so many little ones out here playing around."

Tuesday afternoon, police flanked all four corners of 11th Street and 18th Avenue, writing tickets and issuing warnings to speeding teens.

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