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Driver found guilty of lesser charge


© St. Petersburg Times, published October 20, 2000

NEW PORT RICHEY -- A Pasco jury on Wednesday night convicted a 37-year-old man of a misdemeanor offense in connection with a 1997 hit-and-run crash that killed an elderly Port Richey woman as she was on her nightly walk around her neighborhood.

The jury deliberated for nearly four hours before finding Marshall Ellgas guilty of culpable negligence, but acquitting him of the more serious charges of vehicular homicide and leaving the scene of an accident involving death.

Pasco-Pinellas Circuit Judge William Webb sentenced Ellgas to a year in the county jail, but gave him credit for the eight months he has been in custody awaiting trial. Had he been convicted as charged, he faced a maximum of 18 years in prison.

Prosecutors said Ellgas was driving his girlfriend's 1989 Geo Metro on Oct. 17, 1997, when the car struck Irene Montak, 83, on Zimmerman Road, killing her instantly.

Instead of stopping, prosecutors said, Ellgas sped back to his girlfriend's house, where he had been living, and dismantled the car. They said he removed the dented hood and hid it in a bathroom in the garage, then smashed the windshield with a hammer and vacuumed up the broken glass.

Three days later he fled to Wisconsin, where he was eventually arrested by investigators with the Florida Highway Patrol.

Defense attorney Phil Cohen argued that there was no credible evidence that Ellgas was driving the car that killed Montak.

"There is no evidence before you, at least nothing credible, that he was operating any vehicle, period," he said.

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