Prendergast accident site

The wreck where Citrus County Sheriff Mike Prendergast struck a pedestrian in August occurred on a stretch of U.S. 19 near Woodland Waters Boulevard, north of Weeki Wachee.

The voice on the 911 call was calm as he told dispatchers about striking with his vehicle a man who had darted out into the road.

“I hit him on the right side of my vehicle,” the caller said. “I’m going back to see if I can find the victim.”

The caller was Citrus County Sheriff Mike Prendergast, who reported Wednesday night that he struck a pedestrian on U.S. 19 north of Weeki Wachee in Hernando County.

The pedestrian, 59-year-old Ronnie Anthony Heath of Brooksville, died at the scene of the 9:10 p.m. crash, the Florida Highway Patrol said.

Prendergast, 62, was not injured, and was not under the influence of alcohol at the time of the crash, the FHP report states. Toxicology tests on Heath are pending, the FHP said.

Prendergast was northbound in the outside lane of U.S. 19, driving his unmarked agency-issued 2017 Chevy Tahoe, the FHP said. 

Heath was crossing U.S. 19 and was struck by Prendergast’s Tahoe, the report states.

Prendergast called 911 and Hernando County Sheriff’s deputies responded. Hernando County 911 notified Citrus County emergency dispatch of the crash, according to dispatch recordings.

The Citrus County Sheriff’s Office issued a statement on its Facebook page that reads, in part: “Sheriff Prendergast cooperated fully with Florida Highway Patrol’s investigation and submitted to all requested testing, which included a blood draw. At this time, preliminary information indicates that alcohol was not a factor for the driver in the collision.”

It added: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of the pedestrian during this difficult time.”

Prendergast was returning from a Sheriff’s Ranches Enterprises Inc. board meeting in Safety Harbor when the accident occurred, the sheriff’s office said. According to his calendar for Wednesday, he blocked out 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. for the meeting, followed by private appointments — which are not specified on the calendar — until 8:30 p.m.

Prendergast had planned a Thursday morning news conference to announce the arrests of 23 people in a covert operation. The sheriff’s office canceled the news conference because of the fatality.

The crash occurred near the entrance to the Woodland Waters development on a mostly empty stretch of U.S. 19.

The FHP is investigating the fatality. Sgt. Steve Gaskins, the FHP spokesman for the region, said investigations into fatal crashes may take three to six months or longer.

Referring to Prendergast, Gaskins added in an email response to the Chronicle: “Speed and distraction do not appear to be factors in this case.”

According to the 911 tape, Prendergast urged dispatchers to send emergency vehicles.

“I need to go back and check on the victim,” he said.

In a separate call to 911, Prendergast reported seeing debris on the outside lane of U.S. 19 in the area of the crash.

“There’s also quite a bit of alcohol, mostly beer bottles,” he said. “I can smell the beer on him, pretty strongly too.”

Another motorist who quickly came upon the crash also called 911.

“There’s a policeman, I think, who ran him over, I’m not sure,” the caller said. “It’s bad, it’s bad. I’ll never sleep again.”

Contact Chronicle reporter Mike Wright at 352-563-3228 or mwright@chronicleonline.com.

(16) comments

jgage

good job, I was just wondering if the ambulance was being sent at the same time of the 9-11 call it was all answered, and I did not no I could view the 9-11 dispatch center also, thank you

Lourie Schultz

Yes, it does appear to be an accident, simple and clear. Not to be making light of anyone's unplanned death in any manner, two people were at the wrong place when it happened, sad for all. However, that being said, the fact that the driver is a well known, law enforcer of the highest rank, causes it to stand out among all news media and we will be reading of it for weeks. It easily could have been you or me driving the car. My question of interest is the term "Killed" used in the headline. If it had been common old me, more than likely "fatal" would have been used if an immediate death result had been announced in the first notice of the accident. "Killed" is such a sudden and final wording, especially when coupled with the title of the person driving. For the family the victim belongs to, it implies violence of a much higher nature that could have been controlled and this is definitely not the case here. Please learn to pick your wording more carefully for everyone concerned and for those that are reading the papers. I would hate to think this was an attempt at light slander with elections coming up.

DandyCandy535

The evidence suggests that this was a regular traffic incident with the complication that the victim was impaired by alcohol.

DEBORAHS

Praying for the family of the pedestrian who dies and also for the Sheriff and his family.

jgage

I heard the 9-11 from the sherriff about the pedestrian that was hit by his vehicle I may be wrong but the 9-11 operater seem more interested in getting more details about what happened than getting emergency vehicles and perimedics to the poor victim, please let us the people know what takes place when a 9-11 call is made and who is most important the driver of the car or the poor guy laying back there in the weeds, thank you

Lourie Schultz

Refer jgage comment: Your concern is noted and appreciated, however, it is also clear that you would benefit from a tour of one of the 911 operation centers. At the time of receiving a call, the primary concern is not to make sure the public has all the information at the same time as the responders. The operator answering the phone is placing the information on a board, a second operator is dispatching the responders needed from that board. That is why you are not hearing patrols and ambulances being dispatched. That is why you do not hear it on the initial phone calls. This overlapping action in the 911 center makes needed movement much faster and the first operator is able to gather as much information as possible, such as the road hazards that was passed on in the second call for the safety of responders. Call the non emergency number, someone will be glad to fix you and a guest up for some interesting enlightenment, I am sure you will be more than satisfied with the Sheriff Dept. 911 operations.

Ssabmud

I called the Non Emergency Sheriff's number this week. The first thing that happened, after I gave my name, was we were somehow disconnected. I called back and got a different officer. I told them what I was calling about. Had to give them my name and address 3 times. I called at 3:06pm. No one had responded to the call when I gave up checking at 7:30pm. I was calling because I was really concerned about the event. Perhaps there was a good reason the Sheriff's Office ignored my call, but I can sincerely say that the saying, "If you see something, say something" is not high on my priority list anymore. Not satisfied at all.


MJackson

You all do a wonderful heart wrenching job and I applaud you👏👏👏

CyJ

Ssabmud - the reason the second dispatcher asked for your address twice was to verify they had it correct in the system. As you called the non-emergency line, they did not receive the information like what happens on a 911 call. By asking you to repeat it they can look at their screen and make sure the address they entered into the system matches what you are telling them. They typically say, can you repeat your address for verification. As for response time, it depends on many factors, the information provided to dispatch allows them to prioritize a call and place it into the dispatcher's queue. If higher priority calls are received, the lower priority call is bumped down to ensure those with the most need are responded to first. It isn't that your issue isn't important but rather than there others with more need at the time. There is a science to it all, really.

jgage

your reply was very helpful to all of us, thank you

bluehog

Emergency units are simultaniously dispatched by computer entries made by the operator while information is being gathered. The 911 operator isn't just sitting there writing information, he/she is sending units at the same time.

jgage

all these replies are good to hear, thanks for sharing them.

CyJ

jgage - Many 911 call centers have dedicated operators who handle the calls. While speaking with the caller, they are entering information into the computer system which. When enough information is collected to initiate response (depends on agency policy) a call is created and assigned to the appropriate dispatcher(s) to deliver to units to respond. Most likely units were dispatched within a minute or so as the location, type of call and injuries being involved were gathered quickly. After that the dispatcher collects additional information on the caller, descriptions and such.

jgage

good to know that thank you

jgage

thanks for your reply, it was very helful to know, you have answered just what we wanted to hear, thank you

baugsburger

Many prayers go out to this family, what a sad accident for anyone involved.

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