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The driver who killed a 13-year-old pedestrian is cited only with running a red light.
By RICHARD DANIELSON, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 28, 2001
A St. Petersburg College freshman will face no charge more serious than running a red light in a traffic accident that killed a 13-year-old East Lake boy on Sept. 13, authorities have decided.
The Florida Highway Patrol cited 18-year-old Eric James Pateidl with disobeying a traffic signal but recommended that no criminal charges be filed.
After reviewing a report from traffic homicide investigators, "We concurred with their conclusions," Pinellas-Pasco Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett said Thursday. "It appears as though they had done a fairly thorough investigation."
Pateidl, of 4711 Ilex Court, was driving a 1992 Mitsubishi that struck Scott Raymond Schwirian, an eighth-grader at St. Cecelia Interparochial School in Clearwater. Scott was crossing East Lake Road at Village Center Drive/Ridgemoor Boulevard with his motorized scooter when he was hit.
News of the state's decision profoundly disappointed Scott Schwirian's family, which has recently run newspaper ads seeking more witnesses.
"I don't know what to say other than we're crushed," said his grandfather, Charles Raymond Lee. "We're just lost, that's all."
Efforts to find additional witnesses will go on, said Lee and Kevin Hayslett, an attorney for the family.
"These are always tough cases whether you're prosecuting them or defending them," said Hayslett, a former prosecutor. "I think that in this case the State Attorney's Office has made the best decision that they can make with the information that they had when they had it.
"We believed that someone who blows through a red light and hits a kid in a crosswalk, certainly that deserves a real close look" to determine whether criminal charges should be filed, Hayslett said. Witnesses said Scott was pushing the scooter across the road when he was hit, he said.
As a result of the newspaper ads, the family has talked to three or four witnesses in addition to those interviewed by troopers. Neither the original nor additional witnesses provided information establishing that Pateidl was speeding or driving recklessly immediately before the accident, Hayslett said. There were no skid marks to establish the speed of Pateidl's car.
"We're going to continue to look for witnesses and try to develop a theory that would support a criminal prosecution," Hayslett said. "As we find information we will pass it on to the State Attorney's Office and let them make a decision about a prosecution."
New information would be forwarded to troopers.
"If they found additional information, I'm sure the Florida Highway Patrol would take that into consideration in light of the current investigation and everybody would review that accordingly," Bartlett said.
Along with the ticket he received for the Sept. 13 crash, Pateidl had been previously cited for speeding and failure to stay within a single lane, court records show. He received a second speeding ticket two months after the accident.
Considering Pateidl's driving history, the accident and the speeding ticket after the accident, "How can anybody conclude from that that (he) is learning from any of his mistakes?" Lee said.
"As a result, the senseless death of our grandson is, if it's possible, even more senseless," he said. "A family just searches for any kind of positive outcome and there just isn't any."
Scott, the only child of Scott and Deborah Schwirian, was born in Clearwater but had lived in East Lake for the past three years. As an infant and child, Scott survived three open-heart surgeries, two so serious that doctors doubted whether he would live.
"We are an extremely close family," said Lee, 59, a retired banker. "I moved to this neighborhood so I could be close to my daughter and my grandson and her husband."
Now every time Lee leaves the Lansbrook neighborhood and heads south on East Lake Road, he must pass through the intersection where his grandson was killed. On the day of the accident, he rushed to the scene and arrived just after a helicopter carrying his grandson took off.
"Every time I'm sitting at that light or I drive through that intersection I see . . . paramedic gear strewn about," he said. He said any witnesses, especially those driving south on East Lake Road, the same direction as Pateidl, can call him at (727) 934-2258.
Pateidl's stepfather said he thought prosecutors made the right decision about an accident caused by a moment's inattention. The accident also has left his family in shock, he said.
"Our boy's a good boy," said Frank McCallister. "It would be a tragedy to have him go to prison for 10 years for something that was an unfortunate accident."
Pateidl "was incredibly broken up" by the accident, McCallister said. "He's going (into) therapy for a while trying to overcome it."
McCallister and defense attorney Louis Kwall, who represents Pateidl, said they did not believe the young man has a problem with speeding. McCallister said he can see how Scott Schwirian's family has reached the conclusions it has, but he said the speeding ticket that followed the Sept. 13 accident arose from a different set of circumstances.
Pateidl was cited in November for driving 48 mph in a 30 mph zone. The infraction took place on a road where the speed limit had been recently dropped from 45 to 30 mph, McCallister said.
"He basically got caught in the speed trap because he wasn't aware that they lowered the speed limit," said McCallister, 47, a computer software designer. "I was disappointed that he got the ticket. But I don't feel like he's out there running wild because I understand the circumstances."
-- Staff writer Richard Danielson can be reached at (727) 445-4194 or Danielson@sptimes.com.