Suspect dies, victim's kin mourn again
By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 23, 2001
ST. PETERSBURG -- Mary Hasbrouck never saw the face of the man accused of killing her husband in a drunken car crash. She wanted to look into his eyes.
On July 17, she would have gotten her chance at Raymond W. Bahling III's trial on a second-degree murder charge.
But on Friday, Bahling, 47, died of natural causes at St. Petersburg General Hospital, ending a rare criminal case in which prosecutors sought a murder conviction rather than one for DUI-manslaughter in a drunken driving case.
Bahling's death now leaves two families hanging, both now touched by tragedy and loss.
"I never saw his face, and I feel cheated," said Mrs. Hasbrouck, whose husband Stephen Hasbrouck was killed in a Aug. 1 crash with Bahling. "There isn't closure. I wasn't able to see my husband because of the crash. And now I won't ever be able to see this man."
But her family isn't happy another man is dead.
"I can imagine what they're going through," said Kevin Hasbrouck, the victim's son. "I'm mournful because it's another human being who lost his life. And he's leaving behind people who cared for him, I'm sure. Nobody wanted to see this happen."
Avie Hensley, a friend of Bahling's, said, "Ray was looking forward to going to trial and proving he was innocent. He wasn't a murderer."
"The one thing we're thankful for is that he wasn't in jail when he died," she said.
Prosecutors said Bahling was barreling down Interstate 275 in his Dodge Ram with a blood-alcohol level three times the legal limit when he hit a guardrail, tearing off a tire.
He shot down an exit ramp at 22nd Avenue N at up to 100 mph, prosecutors say.
His truck hit a median, became airborne and landed on a Cadillac driven by Stephen Hasbrouck, who was stopped at a red light on 22nd Avenue.
The impact instantly killed the 56-year-old Pinellas County employee on his way to a family dinner.
Bahling, an unemployed construction worker, could have been charged with DUI-manslaughter, a crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison.
But Pinellas prosecutors say the case was so egregious that it deserved the more severe murder charge, which carries a penalty from 25 years to life.
Bahling had been jailed on $250,000 bail pending trial. His family said he spent most of his time in a jail infirmary, suffering from a blood disorder which they said was the cause of death.
But the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said the cause of death was related to complications stemming from his alcoholism.
The Medical Examiner's office listed the official cause of death as a gastrointestinal hemorrhage. Bahling suffered from hepatitis B and C and cirrhosis of the liver.
"He was in bad shape when he came in," said Pinellas sheriff's spokesman Cal Dennie. "He was an alcoholic."
Hensley denied that Bahling was an alcoholic.
Dennie said Bahling was taken to the hospital three days before his death because of low blood pressure.
Assistant Public Defender Craig Alldredge, who represented Bahling, last met with him on May 9. He said his client looked healthy.
"He was cheerful," said Alldredge. "But it's worth mentioning that he was very remorseful that his actions has caused the death of a human being. He felt very bad about that. He always did."
Kevin Hasbrouck, the victim's son, said it was an odd feeling for his family, who live in St. Petersburg. They were preparing for trial, looking for justice.
"We all feel kind of cheated that my father was killed, and nobody will be held responsible for it," he said. "It's an odd feeling. We wanted the trial, we wanted to know exactly what happened. (Bahling) never told anyone. He never confessed."
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