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.