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Pasco Tribune

Port Richey man charged in fatal crash heads to court in Pasco

Published:   |   Updated: March 7, 2013 at 04:14 PM

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About a year ago, a Port Richey man raced his minivan north on U.S. 19, crashing into vehicles first in Pasco and then Hernando County. Richard Barrett Jr., 40, is responsible for at least three crashes, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

After the accident, Barrett called himself "speed racer," according to a sheriff's office report, and told a deputy he wanted to see "how fast he could drive."

"Something took over my mind," Barrett said about an hour after being apprehended.

One of the last vehicles Barrett hit that Wednesday morning was Charles Hesser's Toyota Tacoma pickup. His widow, Brenda Hesser, said her husband left the house about 8:30 a.m. to go to Lowe's.

Brenda Hesser went for a walk with friends and wasn't all that concerned when her husband wasn't home by 10 a.m., thinking he'd made another stop. She began worrying after that.

Hesser said at 12:45 p.m. her phone rang to let her know her husband was going into surgery.

Hesser's pickup had rolled six times before coming to a stop in the southbound lane of the highway, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

Charles Hesser's golf friends later said they saw the mangled gold truck on U.S. 19 near Northcliffe, passing it but never thinking it belonged to their friend.

Medical staff later told Brenda Hesser that as her husband went into surgery, covered in blood, he laughed and asked if he could "golf tomorrow."

Fifty days after the accident, Hesser died from injuries he sustained in the crash. Hesser was 72 and living life as an active retiree between his homes in Weeki Wachee and Fulton, Ill.

But Barrett has yet to be charged in Hesser's death. According to Sgt. Steve Gaskins, spokesman for the Florida Highway Patrol, the Barrett case was "suspended" in November 2012 "pending lab analysis." Barrett's toxicology report is in Gainesville and still incomplete.

* * * * *

Last week, Brenda Hesser sat at her kitchen table with three friends, including Judi Tuggle, who acts as her unofficial spokeswoman. Documents are stacked on top of placemats and include Charles Hesser's death certificate, newspaper clippings and court documents for Barrett's cases.

Hesser is composed and through a pair of reading glasses reads the long list of injuries — written in neat cursive script in a spiral notebook — that her husband was treated for between the crash and his death in April.

Multiple blood clots. Six broken ribs, a punctured lung, a tracheotomy. His kidneys were failing, he had head trauma and a finger and toe needed to be stitched back on. His head swelled and his skin turned black. He developed diabetes from the many medications.

She wishes she had photos of how badly her husband was injured.

Tuggle said her friend has relived the painful experience over and over again in the past year.

"It's not just the fact a life was lost," Tuggle said. "But that for 50 days an entire community and family was disrupted."

Brenda Hesser and her friends meet regularly to discuss developments in Barrett's cases.

* * * * *
When Barrett's car stopped running last Feb. 15, sheriff deputies arrived to find a man witnesses warned was "crazy."

They said Barrett was speeding and changing lanes "recklessly" and intentionally rear-ending cars, police said.

Barrett yelled at Deputy Gisele Mulverhill, telling her to "go to hell," "I'll kill you" and other expletives, according to a sheriff's office report.

Mulverhill tased Barrett twice, and when backup deputies pulled him from his minivan, he punched Mulverhill and kicked her in the stomach, according to the report.

Barrett was later booked on two charges of assault on an officer and one battery charge.

In the days that followed the incident, area residents learned Barrett was bipolar and his medication had stopped working. According to a Pasco County Sheriff's Office report, Barrett's wife, Rachel, had called to report a domestic dispute to law enforcement at 10:22 p.m. on Feb. 14. Rachel Barrett slept at her mother's house that night.

Deputies stopped by the Barrett residence the following morning to check on Rachel Barrett and Barrett's father, who lives with them. Rachel told deputies her husband is bipolar and was easily angered, belligerent and "acting strange as of late." She was concerned because her husband wasn't home, and the responding deputy then learned Barrett was in custody after the crashes, according to the report.

On Dec. 20, Barrett was acquitted of the battery charge by reason of insanity in a non-jury trial in Judge Daniel Merritt Sr.'s court in Hernando County. The assault charges were dropped by the state prosecutor.

On Dec. 27, his driver's license was suspended, he was released with the condition of no alcohol or bars and the case was deferred to the Pasco County charges.

On Feb. 27, Barrett is due in court in Pasco County on charges of leaving the scene of the accident.

Hesser and her friends won't be satisfied until Barrett receives more than a "slap on the wrist" and being told not to drive, Tuggle said. They believe if he was able to get a driver's license, he should be held responsible for his actions.

Tuggle said the judicial system is leading Brenda Hesser and her friends on a "merry chase," hoping to "wear us out." Hesser and her family are frustrated neither law enforcement nor state prosecutors have been in touch about the case.

"But I'm like a dog with a bone," Tuggle said. "I don't let go. We want our day in court to tell him he killed someone.

"Charlie led a healthy and active life, and he deserves recognition."

On Feb. 7, Gaskins said Barrett's blood sample was still in Gainesville, and he was not sure when the results would be available.

In an email, Gaskins wrote, "I apologize about the delays, but this is the current status of the investigation. No fatal car crash is forgotten … and all efforts are made to conduct a thorough investigation on behalf of victims and their families."

Both Sonny McCathran and Bill Catto of the State Attorney's office said Friday they had spoken with Hesser about the case. Catto said the traffic homicide report is still with FHP, and when he has the file, he will "review the applicable law to render a decision."

McCathran said that in the December case, three separate evaluations found Barrett to be "insane at the time of the incident."

* * * * *
Charles Hesser spent the days leading up to his death golfing and fishing.

The night before the accident, the Hessers went on a pontoon boat cruise with close friends.

Brenda Hesser's canal slip is now empty. Her husband's boat sits in the garage, with the door open far enough to see a "For Sale" sign on the vessel.

When asked about the last year of her life, Brenda Hesser tears up.

"I can't," Hesser whispers, shaking her head.

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