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    Driver faces hit-run charges

    The St. Petersburg man is accused of vehicular homicide, leaving the scene and driving with a suspended license.

    By JACKIE RIPLEY and AMY WIMMER

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published June 17, 2001


    TAMPA -- The driver of the car that ran over a University of South Florida student early Friday, then ran over him again while speeding away, has turned himself in to police.

    Juan Martinez, 22, of 7100 Ninth St. S in St. Petersburg and four men who were in the car with him that morning appeared Friday night at the Tampa Police Department headquarters downtown.

    After being interviewed by detectives, Martinez was charged with vehicular homicide, leaving the scene of a fatal accident and driving with a suspended license. The other men, who were not identified by police, were not charged.

    The hit-and-run accident occurred after Martinez and four friends argued with a group of USF rugby players in Ybor City's bar district. Police said Martinez and the group ran from the area before a fight broke out.

    That's when two other men approached the USF students. This time, a fight began. Moments later, Travis Wright, 27, a third-year engineering student, was knocked to the street.

    As he struggled to regain his senses, he was run over by a car driven by Martinez, who was speeding backward along 13th Street toward Seventh Avenue, police said.

    Police do not think Martinez meant to hit Wright.

    "It was a little bit of a bad situation that turned worse," said police spokeswoman Katie Hughes. "Add alcohol to the picture and you have a bad thing happen."

    Witnesses said the first argument started about 3:30 a.m. when Wright and his group and Martinez and his group were leaving Ybor. Witnesses said Martinez heckled some girls that the rugby players knew.

    Martinez's aunt, Estella Martinez, said Martinez told her son the rugby players were looking for a fight. She said Martinez's group left because they were outnumbered.

    "There were too many of those guys, and they were big guys," she said.

    Ms. Martinez said her nephew began living with her seven years ago when she moved into her Pinellas Point home. She said he worked in the kitchen at Westminster Shores, a St. Petersburg retirement center.

    Records show Martinez was arrested in St. Petersburg in 1998 for failing to obey a police officer and was cited for failure to appear in court. Details of the arrest were not available Saturday.

    Hughes said the story Martinez and his friends told to detectives Friday night was consistent with the version given by witnesses. "They were trying to back out of a dead-end street and they panicked and took off," Hughes said. "It was not an intentional thing that occurred."

    Martinez, driving a dark Honda belonging to a friend, told detectives that he backed down 13th Street because construction prevented him from crossing Sixth Avenue, Hughes said.

    Martinez was being held in jail Saturday in lieu of $6,250 bail.

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