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.

A Florida Highway Patrol report released Friday about the fatal traffic accident between Citrus County Sheriff Mike Prendergast and a Brookville's pedestrian on U.S. 19 north of Weeki Wachee concluded that the sheriff was not at fault.

Instead, the report concluded that pedestrian Ronnie Heath, 59, contributed greatly to his own death and tested positive for alcohol and drugs.

“(Heath’s) level of intoxication would have impaired his normal faculties and his ability to make judgements at the time of the accident,” the report concluded.

“Therefore, it has been determined that … Heath, by his own negligence and violations of Florida State statute, is responsible for the property damage sustained to (Prendergast’s vehicle), and his own unfortunate death,” the report concluded.  

The 63-page report showed that blood samples from Heath tested positive for alcohol and had a blood alcohol level of 0.146 g/100ml during the time of the accident. The legal alcohol limit for operating a vehicle in Florida is 0.08 g/100ml.

In addition, the FHP report said that toxicology tests on Heath’s blood detected amphetamine at a level of 83 ng/ml. The blood tests also detected methamphetamine at a level of 1,200 ng/ml.

The report went on to explain that methamphetamine levels of 200 ng/ml to 500 ng/ml in drug abusers have resulted in “violent and irrational behavior.”  

According to the report, the FHP also tested a sample of Prendergast’s blood following the accident. No alcohol or drugs were detected in the blood samples, according to the report.

According to the report, Prendergast, who was 62 at the time of the accident,  was driving north on U.S. 19 at about 9:10 p.m. Aug. 21 returning to Citrus County when Heath crossed eastbound into the highway. There was no crosswalk.

Prendergast hit Heath with the right, front side of his agency-issued white, 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 report. The impact then propelled Heath forward and toward the right shoulder of U.S. 19. He was pronounced dead at the scene. The Tahoe’s airbags were not deployed, according to the report.

Following the accident, Prendergast chose not to make any sworn, recorded statements to FHP troopers investigating the accident.

The FHP report and report diagrams showed that Prendergast struck Heath on U.S. 19, 630 feet south of where Woodland Water Boulevard intersects with U.S. 19. The report said that Prendergast stopped north of Woodland Water Boulevard, 728 feet from the collision. Investigating troopers also did not see any skid or brake marks on the road.

Heath was wearing dark clothing, according to the report. The accident left Heath with several broken bones, lacerations and an evisceration.

The report also concluded that Heath had a clear view of northbound traffic and there were no obstructions that would have kept him from seeing oncoming traffic. The report also said that the investigating trooper detected a strong odor of alcohol on Heath’s body. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

According to the FHP report, Tamara Celeste Boozer was driving about three car lengths behind Prendergast. She told FHP investigators she was driving about 63 mph and it appeared Prendergast was driving about the same speed.

She said “the pedestrian appeared to be running toward the east when he was hit by (Prendergast),” the FHP report showed.

The FHP report concluded that based on the collision site and Heath’s final resting spot on the side of the road, Prendergast was traveling between 55.7 mph and 66.7 mph, which is consistent with what Boozer reported. The posted speed limit in the area is 60 mph.

The report also concluded that given Heath’s clothing color and Prendergast’s estimated driving speed, Prendergast could not has seen Heath and reacted earlier in order to have avoided the collision.

An FHP investigator spoke with Heath friends and family members. They said Heath did not appear depressed or suicidal, nor did he have any major life changing events.

The chronicle requested Friday, through his office spokesman, to speak with Prendergast, but did not receive a response.

The Florida Medical Examiner, for Citrus, Hernando, Lake, Marion, Seminole and Sumter counties, concluded the cause of death was “multiple blunt force injuries” and the manner of death was an “accident.”

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

(12) comments

lancel44

Time to elect a new sheriff.

lancel44

another case of the tipped scales of justice. I see a million dollar civil lawsuit against the sheriff and the county

SusJoh

Not sure what you mean by “tipped scales”... lawsuit can be filled but plaintiff won’t get a million dollars...first of all, his next of kin would have to file, and depending on who it is, the person may not have standing to bring a suit. Second, the man who died was elderly (in medical terms over 50 is elderly) and

low income. He wouldn’t get a million dollars in disability income even if he lived to age 100. If he was legally married at the time of his death, his spouse could be compensated for the loss of his legal income. However, the investigation found the sheriff to not bear any fault, so it would be an extremely difficult, if not impossible case to take on and prevail.

ANTHONYMOZO

While the facts surrounding the accident and subsequent FHP report certainly appear to exonerate the sheriff, there are a couple of things that seem a little unusual as reported in the article. Why did the sheriff not fully cooperate FHP? Many state agencies at one time, had rules that required employees to cooperate with investigators or face possible termination. Phone records would determine if the sheriff was or was not on his phone at the time of the accident. The sheriff also refuses to speak to the local newspaper which is indicative of an approach to transparency that is less than ideal. We basically get one side of the accident facts without having the benefit of explanations from the sheriff.

Carpe Citrus

Good point missing items and lack of transparency makes you question if something is being held back to preempt a lawsuit.

SusJoh

How do you know he “didn’t fully cooperate “ with FHP. The report was 30 pages long...I don’t see it printed in its entirety here... this “newspaper” is long on ads, short on news stories. I don’t think they can afford to print a larger paper. The earliest reports said the sheriff was not on the phone, so perhaps that is in some of those 30 pages the Chronicle didn’t print. After a car accident, no one should really talk to the press...oftentimes they report bits and pieces and leave out critical information. Besides, the press printed his calls to 911 where he explained what happened. The press also reported what witnesses said to 911, to investigators at the scene and to the reporters who interviewed them. What more do you want from the sheriff...he already told everyone what happened..

Lourie Schultz

Doesn't sound funny at all, try if you can to figure it out. The car behind him had more distance and time to observe and avoid. Your intent on simply wanting to place blame is noted. Why would his phone come up ? What he had for breakfast wasn't mentioned either.

jims

It's called distracted driving.

SusJoh

Um, no, it’s not distracted driving. You should really research the statute before you put your foot in your mouth.

jims

Not talking about the statute. Simply stating he might have been talking on the phone and did not have 100% situational awareness. Perhaps it is you who should remove said foot from mouth? You had no clue about the statement yet you chose to infer I am wrong.

jims

Does the report mention his phone records?

Funny how the car behind him was able to see the victim running!

Sounds like a clean sweep to me. Right under the rug.

SusJoh

At the beginning of the investigation, it was shown he was not on his phone. If you had bothered to go back to the early articles, you would have your answers...but I guess that way you wouldn’t be able to get your digs in...or false accusations flung around. Now, about your other foot....

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