Citrus County Sheriff Mike Prendergast was not speeding on U.S. 19, nor did alcohol appear to be involved in the August accident in which the sheriff struck and killed a pedestrian crossing Highway 19 north of Weeki Wachee in Hernando County.

That was the conclusion of a preliminary Florida Highway Patrol report dated Sept. 30, but just now obtained by the Chronicle. The results of that preliminary report are subject to change.

The preliminary report sheds little new light on the accident in which the 63-year-old Prendergast was returning from an all-day meeting in Safety Harbor in Pinellas County.

The preliminary report concluded that Prendergast was driving the posted speed limit of 60 mph heading north on U.S. 19 at 9:10 p.m. Aug. 21 when the pedestrian Ronnie Heath, of Brooksville, crossed eastbound into the highway.

Prendergast hit the 59-year-old Heath with the right, front side of his agency issued Chevy Tahoe. The impact of the collision lifted Health onto the hood and into the right side of the car’s windshield, according to the preliminary report. The impact then propelled Heath forward and toward the right shoulder of U.S. 19. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

According to the preliminary report, a blood sample was taken from both Prendergast and Heath, but the results are still pending. FHP investigators, however, reported that neither alcohol nor drugs were suspected in Prendergast’s case. That could change with the final report. The preliminary report indicated it was unknown whether drugs or alcohol was involved in Heath’s actions.

The preliminary report also gives some additional information about the crash.

Investigators reported that Prendergast struck Heath on U.S. 19, 630 feet south of where Woodland Water Boulevard intersects with U.S. 19. A diagram included in the preliminary report shows that Prendergast stopped north of Woodland Water Boulevard, more than 630 feet from the collision. Although the diagram is not to scale, the diagram shows that Heath came to rest hundreds of feet from the impact location.

The preliminary report also indicated that during the accident it was cloudy and the road was not lit. It also indicated Heath was wearing dark clothes.

FHP is continuing with the investigation. Spokesman Sgt. Steve Gaskins said in an email that “the investigation has been submitted for supervisor review, but has not been released at this time.”    

The Chronicle requested to speak with Prendergast, but through a spokeswoman he said he declined to comment as the investigation is ongoing.

Contact Chronicle reporter Fred Hiers at fred.hiers@chronicleonline.com or 352-397-5914.

(4) comments

CitrusCo Citizen

So far, the facts, based on verifiable data, tell us that the driver was not speeding, not under the influence of anything, it was nighttime, the road was unlit, with very little traffic (hence no reason to stop or slow down frequently). The victim was "jaywalking" instead of crossing at a light or pedestrian walkway, wearing dark clothes, and apparently unaware of fast approaching headlights. We don't know YET if the victim was under the influence, or if the driver was distracted by anything like a cellphone or radio/CD player. We HAVE to look at ALL of the facts based on data before we decide to become judge and jury. By the way, I have slammed on the brakes many times when people wearing dark clothes suddenly cross in front of my car (example in Dunnellon on highway 41 especially by the Blue Gator) and also in Crystal River on 19. People, warn your loved ones, especially teens to wear white clothing and even reflective vests or shirts, if they choose to walk or bike near a highway at night. There aren't many street lights out in the country around here.

StevenD

First off they said the dead guy smelled of beer....now, nothing. This whole thing doesn't smell good. Obviously the driver wasn't paying attention. Most of us would be in big trouble.

jims

Did FHP pull phone logs to see if perhaps the sheriff was talking on the phone at the time and possibly distracted?

Carpe Citrus

[thumbup] I agree there has been no mention of cell phone logs at the time of the accident???

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