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Car's dents might link driver to hit-and-run

Police pull Carlton Cabral over for a traffic infraction and notice suspicious markings. Forensic testing may connect him to the hit-and-run of a girl who remains in the hospital.

By CHRISTOPHER GOFFARD

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 20, 2000


MOON LAKE -- Only minutes after a driver plowed into a 14-year-old River Ridge girl and disappeared, a puffy-eyed Carlton Cabral approached neighbors and told them he had done something that could send him to prison, according to an affidavit filed by the Florida Highway Patrol.

Cabral, 23, of New Port Richey, appeared to have been crying immediately after the June 2 hit-and-run that sent Penelope Hormerte to All Children's Hospital in critical condition, Cabral's neighbors told an FHP investigator.

Armed with those leads, the FHP stopped Cabral's red 1989 two-door Nissan on June 8 for a traffic infraction, and a trooper found dents on the hood, roof, and a vertical beam, the affidavit said. Cabral said they were caused by a pool cage falling on his car last year, but the trooper found it suspicious, because there was no rust in the purportedly old dents, the affidavit said.

In the affidavit, drafted June 9 and signed by Circuit Judge William Webb, the FHP requested a warrant to search the Nissan for skin, tissue, blood, hair, fibers and other physical evidence that might link it to the hit-and-run.

FHP Sgt. James Tobin on Monday told the Times that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is analyzing the forensic evidence. Meanwhile, Cabral is being held without bail at the county jail in Land O'Lakes on an unrelated charge of violating his community control on a burglary charge.

"Further charges will be made if it's determined it is his vehicle (that hit Penelope)," Tobin said.

Cabral told a trooper he did not leave home on the night Penelope was struck at the intersection of Lake Drive and Catalona Drive in New Port Richey, though Cabral's wife told the trooper he had, the affidavit said.

Neighbors asked Cabral if he would stop his car if he hit a child, according to the affidavit. Cabral's reported response: Not with the trouble he had been in.

Cabral's trouble with the law goes back to 1996, according to state records, when the Pasco Sheriff's Office arrested him on charges of burglary and dealing in stolen property. He pleaded no contest and got probation. Apart from the most recent charge, he was charged with violating his probation in January 1999 and again this March.

The affidavit said Cabral works at Coastal Craftsmen Aluminum in Hudson. Cabral also has numerous traffic citations. They include citations for failing to obey a traffic sign, careless driving and speeding in 1993; failing to obey a traffic sign, failing to yield and obscuring a tag in 1994; speeding and driving with a suspended license in 1996; and failing to obey still another traffic sign in 1999.

Penelope, whose brain was bruised in the accident, remained at All Children's Hospital on Monday, but her condition was unavailable.

-- Times researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this report.

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