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DUI manslaughter investigation still open

Hernando Today
Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 05:43 PM

Three requirements have been met for a DUI manslaughter charge to be filed in relation to a February accident near Weeki Wachee.

A person was killed, a suspect has been identified and the suspect's drug test came back positive more than two months ago.

As of Thursday, Richard Barrett Jr., the man accused of using his minivan to ram other motorists off the road along U.S. 19, is awaiting trial on his charge of battery against a law enforcement officer.

Authorities said Barrett, of Port Richey, crashed into at least three vehicles the afternoon of Feb. 15 while traveling north along the highway. When his engine gave out near State Road 50, a crazed Barrett swore at other motorists, kicked a Hernando County Sheriff's deputy and took swings at another, according to reports.

Eventually, after deputies used a stun gun on him at least six times, he was strapped to a stretcher and loaded into an ambulance, authorities said. He was jailed after being released from the hospital.

Charles Hesser, 72, wasn't as lucky. His 2004 Toyota Tacoma was one of the vehicles struck by Barrett's minivan, authorities said. Hesser's pickup flipped over several times and he died about seven weeks later from his injuries.

The assistant state attorney handling Barrett's case, Tamesis Cruz, is still going forward with the defendant's battery charge, but she said earlier this week there is a chance the charge could be amended and turned over to a special prosecutor who handles vehicular homicides.

That prosecutor, Bill Catto, said the Florida Highway Patrol is still investigating. Once the agency closes the case, the investigator will recommend a manslaughter charge or Catto will review the findings and draw his own conclusion, he said.

Sgt. Steve Gaskins, an FHP spokesman, said the lead investigator is still working on it, in large part because of an increased caseload.

"It's one of many cases still pending," said Gaskins.

Lab results in March showed Barrett had no alcohol in his system, but a drug analysis came back positive in June, according to an FHP report.

The same report, written by Trooper J.J. Malloy, alleges Barrett closely followed Hesser's pickup and bumped it, causing the truck to rotate into the grassy median.

Malloy stated Hesser's pickup flipped over and came to rest in one of the southbound lanes while Barrett continued driving north along the highway until the engine failed.

After cursing at witnesses who stopped to check on him, Barrett continued his belligerent behavior when deputies arrived, according to the sheriff's office.

The 6-foot-9-inch, 300-pound Barrett kicked a female deputy and threw punches before being subdued, authorities said.

Originally, Barrett was charged with one count of battery and two counts of assault against a law enforcement officer, according to court records. The assault charges were later dropped.

Barrett also was charged in Pasco County with reckless driving and leaving the scene of an accident in connection with a hit-and-run accident in Hudson that took place minutes before the Hernando crash.


wholt@hernandotoday.com (352) 544-5283
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