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DUI Charge Added to Aug. 24 Pensacola Beach Wrongful Death Crash

On behalf of Terence Gross of Gross & Schuster, P.A. posted in Wrongful Death on Tuesday, August 31, 2010.

On Friday, we reported on the fatal hit-and-run car accident that took place on Pensacola Beach on Tuesday, August 24. Christopher Williams had already been charged with vehicular manslaughter, leaving the scene of a fatal accident, driving with a suspended license and having no valid driver’s license in the wreck that ended in the death of 26-year-old Ian Smith, a pedestrian.

Over the weekend, new information was revealed about the fatal car accident: Williams’s neighbor has come forward to testify that the wrongful death crash was the culmination of a day-long drinking binge.

The neighbor, Ryan Davis, revealed that he and Williams had drunk nearly a gallon of whiskey on Monday evening as they lifted weights at Williams’s house — and that was before they went out to drink.

They continued their pre-bar drinking, stopping at a gas station for a 12-pack before heading to beach bars. At The Islander, The Break and Paddy O’Leary’s, the pair drank at least two more pitchers of beer.

Davis decided to walk home, but Williams stayed behind at the bar to shoot pool.

“He was intoxicated,” Davis told Assistant State Attorney Jennie Kinsey.

Davis heard the car accident as he was walking home. He saw Ian Smith lying in the road and saw Williams drive by with a spider-web breakage pattern on his windshield — a detail other witnesses had also mentioned. Davis attempted to help Smith, but the young man was pronounced dead approximately an hour after the crash.

Hearing on Friday Reveals a Pattern of Dangerous Driving

Williams is now charged with DUI manslaughter in addition to the charges that were announced last week. A hearing was held on Friday before Circuit Judge Ron Swanson to determine the final charges and whether Williams would be released from jail pending trial. He will not.

According to the deputy who served the arrest warrant on him, Williams says he did not know he had hit Smith. Corporal John Freeman, a traffic homicide investigator, testified in Friday’s hearing that the deputy told him Williams had said, “I hit something on the beach that night, but I don’t know what.”

The hearing also revealed that Williams has had his driver’s license suspended in California, Oregon and New Jersey and does not hold a driver’s license in Florida. It was not revealed whether his previous driver’s licenses were suspended for DUI.

Williams also has a criminal record including convictions for burglary, resisting arrest and criminal mischief.

Still unresolved is one witness’s claim that the August 24 car accident was not a random hit and run, but that Williams and Smith had been arguing before the crash. The State Attorney’s Office is conducting an ongoing investigation.

The addition of the DUI homicide charge is significant for any potential wrongful death claim by Smith’s family. If Davis’s claims are shown to be true, the family could bring claims against the gas station and the three bars. If it was obvious that Williams was drunk, any establishment that provided him with further alcohol might be considered negligent. Punitive damages are also often awarded in drunk driving accidents.

Related Resource:

“Daylong binge led to hit-run, friend says” (Pensacola News Journal, August 28, 2010)

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