ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Florida Republican congressional hopeful David Jolly was not charged and not at fault in a 1989 car crash in which he fatally struck a pedestrian, according to a Florida Highway Patrol report.
Jolly, who is in a tight race with Democrat Alex Sink to replace the late Rep. Bill Young in Florida’s swing-voting 13th Congressional District, has questioned why the matter has become an issue shortly before March 11 special election. The accident happened when Jolly was 16.
“This was a tragic accident where a man lost his life and a family lost a loved one,” Jolly wrote in a statement Tuesday. “It continues to weigh heavy on my heart after 25 years and we owe the family our deepest sympathies every day.”
“The facts of this accident have been public record for years,” he added. “It is disrespectful and hurtful to the surviving family that someone would now dig this tragedy up to use for political gain. Out of respect for the family and friends who lost a loved one, I will have no further comment.”
St. Petersburg, Fla., station WTSP-TV first reported late Monday on the crash. The matter also surfaced in an anonymous note to the Tampa Bay Times.
On June 9, 1989, Jolly was driving his father’s car from a Tampa mall in Florida’s Pasco County when he struck a 30-year-old man who was walking in the road, near the shoulder, at 9:30 p.m. Troopers wrote in their report that the pedestrian was at fault because he was walking with traffic on the right side of the road and not facing oncoming traffic on the left — a violation of Florida law.
Jolly was driving his father’s car. Jolly and a female passenger were headed from the mall to Dade City — where Jolly lived and went to high school. At the same time, Blair Warren Ropes and Sandra Claudia Vendl also were returning from the mall. Ropes’ motorcycle broke down and the two began to walk.
According to the Florida Highway Patrol report’s diagram, Jolly struck Ropes with the right front bumper of the car. Ropes was walking in the road, the report said. Troopers noted there was no sidewalk.
The report said that Jolly did not stop, instead driving to a nearby convenience store to call emergency workers — and then he returned to the scene.
Vendl told troopers at the time of the crash that she was not injured and was not treated by medical workers, but several weeks later she said she had been struck and had an injured elbow.
The special election has spurred a multimillion-dollar ad war being financed by both political parties and outside groups. Republicans have attacked Sink over President Barack Obama’s health care law, while Democrats have linked Jolly to the GOP’s far-right.
Also on Tuesday, details surfaced that Jolly took a homestead credit in the same year at his Florida condo and a home in Washington, D.C.
Jolly campaign spokeswoman Sarah Bascom said that when Jolly bought his D.C. home in 2007, paperwork was mistakenly filed for a homestead exemption, but Jolly quickly fixed it, returned a $264 tax credit and had the homestead credit removed.
The district, which encompasses most of Pinellas County along Florida’s Gulf Coast, is considered a tossup: voters here backed former President George W. Bush in 2004 before narrowly supporting Barack Obama twice. In 1995, Jolly began service as a longtime aide to Young, who represented the area for more than four decades before his death in October. Young was one of the longest-serving Republicans in the House.