[Video of Press conference from May 3, 2014/Ocala Post attended and followed the case from beginning to end]
Ocala, Fla. – On Friday, February 28, 2020, a portion of Interstate 75 between the 340 and 344 mm in Marion County will be named in remembrance of fallen Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) Trooper, Chelsea Renee Richard.
“The death of any trooper is a true loss for the Florida Highway Patrol and for the State of Florida, but when that trooper is a vibrant young 30-year-old mother who leaves behind a 4-year-old son and loving would-be fiancé, our hearts ache that much more,” said Senator Lauren Book. “Remembered as grateful and giving, Trooper Chelsea Renee Richard was a beam of light for the Ocala District Command Office, for all those she worked with, and for those whose lives she touched out on the roadway. She showed up to work each day willing to run toward danger at times when others are running away. During her near-decade of service, there is no telling how many lives Trooper Richard saved and protected, how many individuals and fellow patrolmen she assisted in times of emergency. But while we may never know the totality of her service, the people whose lives she touched know and remember. With kind actions and words, and Trooper Chelsea Richard provided assistance and safety in times of fear, stress, and confusion. We thank her for her courage. It is my honor to have worked with FHP and the Florida Legislature to ensure the proper recognition of Trooper Richard and the legacy of service she has left behind. Gone, but never forgotten.”
Trooper Richard was a member of the Florida Highway Patrol, serving the citizens and visitors of Florida for nine years. She began her career with FHP on June 20, 2005, as a member of the 111th Basic Recruit Class in Tallahassee.
The story of that tragic day
Troy Thomas Owens, then 23, did not face any jail time for hitting and killing three people, including Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Chelsea Richard in the May 3, 2014, accident.
Trooper Richard was completing a single-vehicle crash investigation in the center median when a truck, driven by Owens, of Ocala, traveled into the median and slammed into Trooper Richard, tow truck driver John Duggan, and Robert Phillips. Trooper Richard and Duggan were pronounced deceased at the scene.
Phillips expired later that evening at Ocala Regional Medical Center.
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According to court records obtained by Ocala Post, Owens was adjudicated guilty, received a six-month suspension on his license, and had to pay a $1,000 fine.
Owens was cited for failure to use due care in the accident and attempted to fight that as well, but lost.
The family of those killed in the accident strongly believe that Owens walked away with “a slap on the wrist.”
Owens was driving a black Ford F-250 pickup, and pulling a trailer large enough to haul a car. Between his truck and the trailer, it weighed nearly 10,000 pounds.
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Judge Thomas Thompson III said it was proven that Owens was doing at least 65 MHP in the rain, in the left-hand lane, while approaching slowed traffic and a Florida Highway Patrol vehicle in a state with a “Move Over” law. However, Owens didn’t move over. Moments later, Owens drove off the roadway and slammed into the trooper.
Owens’ defense attorney, Pravesh Bobby Rumalla, said it was John Lindecamp who was driving a 2005 black Mercury Mariner that caused the accident.
According to records, Lindecamp stated that he saw the slowed traffic and began to slow down. He said his brakes locked, causing him to fishtail, and possibly swerve out of his own lane a “little bit” and into the left lane where Owens was driving.
Owens told the judge he slowed to the low 50s, and had his turn signal on; however, he continued to pass several cars in the middle lane. He said when he got close to Lindecamp’s vehicle, Lindecamp hit him.
When the judge again pointed out the issue of being in the left lane and not following the “Move Over” law, Owens claimed he didn’t have room to move over in accordance with the law.
However, several witnesses that had already merged into the middle lane, disagreed.
Witnesses testified that there was room, but that Owens didn’t attempt to move over or slow down. Witnesses also stated that while Owens had been weaving in and out of traffic and passing cars in the rain, he never used his turn signal; another allegation Owens denied.
Rumalla tried to argue that Owens had planned to exit at the County Road 484 off-ramp; therefore, it didn’t make sense that Owens was in the left lane.
Several of Owens’ statements seemed to contradict one another.
According to reports, witness Amy Barco, who was pulling a trailer with horses, said she saw Owens get on the highway at State Road 40, Ocala.
Barco testified that Owens entered the highway at a high rate of speed, and cut her off while he made his way across the lanes. She said she was doing 73 MPH when he cut her off and sped past her.
Barco testified that Owens was driving so fast she lost sight of his truck very quickly, but several miles down the road saw him again. By this time, he had already been in an accident and was standing by his truck.
The judge said Barco’s testimony was very important because it was consistent with all other testimony. The judge stated that Owens was able to disappear from sight, have an accident, and be standing outside his truck when Barco caught up to him. He said Barco’s testimony was very consistent with the argument that Owens was in the left lane and speeding.
Because criminal charges were never filed against Owens, the trail was about traffic only.
The judge said, “I can only impose what was legally allowed by law.”
Morally, however, he said Owens and Lindecamp would have to figure that out for themselves.
The outcome of this case has created outrage within the community.
Owens has been described on social media as a “spoiled brat” because he allegedly comes from money. Many say they feel the punishment did not fit the crime.
Authorities have also expressed disgust. They said Owens did not show any regret and that while they were investigating the crash scene, he kept asking if he could leave.
A closer look at Owens’ state records showed that he has had several traffic violations in Marion County alone, and was convicted of burglary and grand theft in 2010.
Driving history for Marion County
May 2012, unlawful speed on an interstate; May 2012, no proof of insurance; May 2013, failure to use turn signal; May 2013, excessive emissions (car heavily smoking and causing visibility issues for other drivers), and July 2013, running a red light.
His license was also suspended for failure to meet court obligations prior to the tragic I-75 accident.
Owens was arrested again in July 2014, for violation of probation. He spent one day in jail. He was still on probation at the time of the accident. A condition of his probation stated that he was not to leave Marion County.
According to transcripts, Owens did not admit any wrongdoing during the trial.
It was also reported that Owens did not show any emotion, signs of remorse, and never apologized to the families of the deceased.
However, Owens’ defense attorney did say that Owens regretted what happened.
During the funeral for the trooper, Trooper Tod G. Cloud urged Scott to veto a bill that — at that time — had passed to raise the speed limit from 70 mph to 75 mph on Florida highways.
Trooper cloud, in front of hundreds of people, said to Governor Scott, “The bill wasn’t a very bright idea.” He went on to say, “I fear working a crash on I-75, because people do not drive with common sense.”
Cloud said he would like to see a law that would drop the speed limit to 55 mph when highways are wet.
Reportedly, Governor Scott didn’t like being “called out” in front of everyone. There was speculation that Governor Scott had Trooper Cloud terminated, but those speculations were put to rest after Ocala Post reached out to the FHP.
“Yes, Trooper Tod G. Cloud is employed with FHP at this time,” said Sergeant Tracy Hisler-Pace, Public Affairs Officer for the Florida Highway Patrol.
“The May 3, 2014, accident has affected many lives, not just those that were killed. The ripple effect that the sudden and tragic deaths of Trooper Chelsea Richard, Mr. John Duggan, and Mr. Robert Phillips has left behind is incomprehensible. Lives were lost, and the lives of the family and friends left behind will be forever changed,” troopers said.
Troopers said it is simple: when you see flashing lights, move over, and if you can’t move over, you are required by law to reduce your speed by 20 mph below the posted speed limit, period.
There are large signs posted along I-75 that clearly inform drivers of the “Move Over” law. Troopers said ignorance is not an excuse for breaking the law; especially when it could cost someone their life. The law will be enforced and drivers will be ticketed.
Jaymi Reilly, wrote, “My brother, who was my hero was killed in that crash…He didn’t have to be taken from us if this boy had used some common sense. My family will never get over losing my big brother and it makes me physically ill that this kid not only fought the ticket he received as the result of killing 3 innocent people, but he couldn’t even show remorse for the result of his actions?!?! He got a slap on the wrist, and my family got a box of ashes to remember a man who was such an inspiration to so many. What a crock!! My brother would have wanted us to find forgiveness so that’s what we are trying to do, but this makes me sick!!”
Ocala Post was not able to obtain photos in memory of Duggan or Phillips.