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Car runs over, kills man in Ybor City

The car barrels backward down the street, running over the man as he recovers from an early morning fight.


© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 16, 2001

TAMPA -- The fight lasted only a minute, and afterward Travis Wright crouched low in the Ybor City street, dazed from a blow.

Travis Wright, 27, was a student at the University of South Florida in Tampa, where he played rugby.
As the crowd scattered about 3:30 a.m. Friday, Wright's friends, all rugby players from the University of South Florida, gathered to leave. Teammate Nick Kessler was walking toward Wright when a Honda came screaming down the street.

Driving in reverse, it sped along 13th Street toward Seventh Avenue, and as Kessler watched in horror, it ran over his friend.

"He knocks him down. Backs over him, he's under the car," the USF senior recalled.

The driver took the car out of reverse. "Then he drove over him and floored it," fleeing the scene, Kessler said, even as a crowd tried to block the car, and another rugby player threw a 5-gallon bucket that shattered the windshield.

Wright, 27, a USF student and rugby player, was pronounced dead at Tampa General Hospital early Friday.

By Friday afternoon, police still did not know the identity of the driver or the others in the car. The driver and his friends started an argument, police said, by heckling some girls the rugby players knew but ran away before any punches were thrown.

Two strangers then stepped up, saying they were looking for a fight. That's when the blows were exchanged that left Wright stunned.

The first group that started the argument was trying to leave the scene by car, said Tampa police Detective David Puig, when they realized they could not cross Sixth Avenue because of construction.

So the car, described as a dark-colored Honda, possibly an Accord, quickly backed up 13th Street, Puig said, striking Wright. It was not clear whether any of the surveillance cameras along Seventh Avenue captured what happened, Puig said.

Wright's family and friends were left to mourn the vibrant, outgoing ex-Marine, who was in his third year of studies to be an engineer.

"It's an unbelievable thing," said his father, Dean Wright, of Valrico. "I'm angry that I don't have a son anymore."

And while the driver may not have meant to hit Wright, witnesses said, he had to know he hit Wright once it happened.

"The car, lord of mercy, the car came up into the air" with the impact, said Jason DeCarlucci, 26, a USF senior. "What kind of person runs over somebody and leaves?"

DeCarlucci said he and the rest of a group of eight USF rugby players arrived in Ybor City about 11:30 Thursday night and spent time at The Masquerade and Club Fun before heading for their cars at Seventh Avenue and 13th Street about 3 a.m.

No one knew why the two strangers wanted to fight, Kessler said, but one of them sucker-punched one of the rugby players and the fisticuffs began.

Afterward, everyone met in the parking lot except Wright, who was dazed in the street. "Then, boom. They just drilled him" with the car, Kessler said.

Kessler ran to his friend but could not feel a pulse, he said. Wright did not appear to be conscious or breathing.

At the hospital, Kessler was looking for one of his friends when he happened into the room where Wright's body lay.

"So I touched him, and I prayed for him," Kessler said.

Saying goodbye, he said, brought little closure.

"I know there's a reason for everything, but why this one?"

- Amy Herdy can be reached at (813) 226-3386 or



Paper: Date: 6/16/01 +

Page: 3B Section: HILLSBOROUGH +

Byline: Times staff writer


TAMPA -- A former school maintenance supervisor has been charged with grand theft, accused of spending thousands of taxpayer dollars to purchase items for his own use

The State Attorney's Office charged Roosevelt Lawrence Jr., 39, with grand theft, a felony that carries a maximum five-year prison sentence. Warrants were issued, but he had not been arrested Friday.

School district attorney Crosby Few said once the State Attorney's Office began looking into the allegations, he thought Lawrence would be prosecuted.

"They (Lawrence and another maintenance department employee) took advantage of the system and you just can't do that," he said.

A private investigator's report accuses Lawrence, of 411 W Osborne Ave., and the other employee of using school money to buy compact disc players, leaf blowers and a gas grill. It also alleges that Lawrence bought a $1,443 air conditioner that was painted white and "mounted to the east wall of Mr. Lawrence's home."

Lawrence could not be reached for comment.

Lawrence worked for Hillsborough County schools for 12 years before resigning in April after Superintendent Earl Lennard recommended his firing. He was paid $49,837 annually as maintenance unit manager.

A maintenance employee who reported to Lawrence, Larry T. Pound, is also accused of wrongdoing, but no charges have been filed against him. He has appealed a district recommendation to fire him. Both men were placed on leave in February.

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