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    Crash victim's family seeks driver of Jeep

    Police say the man might not have realized his effect on the fatal accident on Wednesday morning.

    By CHRIS TISCH

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published June 15, 2001


    CLEARWATER -- Family members of a man killed in a Wednesday morning car crash are hoping the driver of a vehicle that did not stop after the accident will come forward.

    Police say the driver of a burgundy Jeep Cherokee may have cut off Jose Ortiz's white Pontiac Bonneville on Wednesday morning, causing Ortiz to veer into oncoming traffic on Drew Street.

    Ortiz struck an oncoming car, nearly head-on. The father of three was taken by helicopter to Bayfront Medical Center, where he died seven hours later.

    Police said the driver of the Jeep Cherokee may have not realized that he had an indirect effect on the crash. Police also said it is not even clear whether the man commited a crime.

    Ortiz's family members say it would help if the man came forward to help sort out what happened.

    His brother-in-law, Hector Rivera, said Ortiz was a good father and active churchgoer.

    "He was a real good father," Rivera said. "He'd go every time to church."

    Ortiz's wife, Elba, and two of his children, 18-year-old Marjorie Cintron and 7-year-old Josue Ortiz, also were in the car. Elba Ortiz was taken to Morton Plant Hospital after the crash with injuries that police said were not life-threatening. She was listed in critical condition at the hospital Thursday.

    The two children were not injured.

    The car Ortiz struck was driven by Francis Barnhisel, 57, a former Safety Harbor city commissioner. She was taken by helicopter to Bayfront Medical Center, where she remained Thursday in fair condition.

    Ortiz's neighbor, Maria Gonzalez, said he doted on his children. His third child is a 14-year-old boy, Jose Ortiz Jr., who has been staying recently in Massachusetts. Ortiz and his family moved to Clearwater from Massachusetts about a year ago, Gonzalez said.

    He was collecting disability payments, but otherwise worked as a mechanic.

    "They're real nice people," Gonzalez said. "They're Christians. The church, that was their life."

    Ortiz's home at 2985 Tanglewood Drive was empty Thursday. His children were visiting their mother at the hospital, Rivera said.

    Police said they are seeking anyone with information about the crash, which occurred about 9:10 a.m. Wednesday on Drew Street, about halfway between Belcher and Old Coachman roads. The Jeep Cherokee is believed to be a mid 1990s model.

    To help

    Anyone with information about the burgundy Jeep Cherokee involved in the crash that killed Jose Ortiz on Wednesday is asked to call Clearwater police at (727) 562-4167.

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