Early on the morning of Dec. 11, a Sunday, a Toyota Tacoma pickup truck driving the wrong way on State Road 44 slammed head-on into a black Infiniti Q50 killing three young friends, one of whom was a well-known TikTok influencer and Hooters girl with nearly a million followers.
Police have identified the owner of the truck, who was a passenger; the driver fled into the woods and the Florida Highway Patrol isn’t providing any details on his identity.
But family members of one of those killed are convinced they know who drove the Tacoma, and the man they identified didn’t deny he was the driver when a reporter spoke with him well over a month ago.
Friends and family are growing impatient with the pace of the investigation and want to see some action: now.
Angela Gillis said she is “beyond frustrated that it seems no progress has been made at all,” when asked Monday how the wait for an arrest is impacting her family.
Gillis’ brother, Kyle Moser, was one of three people killed in the crash near DeLand.
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Moser’s mother also expressed her frustration on social media recently: “Almost 6 weeks no arrest,” commented Theresa Moser, on Facebook more than a week ago.
Hit-and-run cases involving a death can be complex for investigators. It can take months for police to bring charges, according to two attorneys who worked on prosecuting these kinds of crashes before becoming defense lawyers.
Criminal defense attorney Don Pumphrey Jr., based in Tallahassee, said the only restriction on the timing of an arrest is the statute of limitations. It’s not uncommon for arrests in a traffic homicide case to take a year or more, he said.
Killed in the crash were Moser, 25, of Daytona Beach; Tik Tokker Ali Spice, real name Alexandra Dulin, 21, who was living in St. Petersburg; and Ava Fellerman, 20, originally from Pennsylvania. Driver Devin Perkins, 22, of New Smyrna Beach, was injured. Joanna Dillon, 36, of Deltona, owner of the Tacoma, was also injured in the wreck.
Facebook posts by Ashley Minton, married to Moser’s brother, and Gillis, Moser’s sister, accused a man named Tom Petry of Orange City of being the driver.
On Monday, Gillis said her family is aware Petry was driving the Toyota Tacoma because Petry’s insurance company reached out to her family.
“My mom received a letter from Petry’s insurance company, not sure what more evidence is needed,” Gillis said. “All FHP says is it’s an ongoing investigation.”
Gillis said her brother’s loss and the fact that no one has been brought to justice is almost unbearable.
“I have really removed myself from everything. It’s been too overwhelming for me and frustrating,” she said.
Dillon did not respond to messages left for her on Facebook seeking comment, nor did Ms. Moser. Police said initially that Dillon was reluctant to name the driver of her Tacoma. It’s not clear whether she is cooperating or not.
Moser was a popular server at Top of Daytona Restaurant. Fellerman, another Hooters girl, is the daughter of a trial lawyer in Pennsylvania. She lived in Treasure Island, Florida, and attended the University of South Florida, according to her obituary.
Perkins was injured and according to a GoFundMe.com page dedicated to raising funds to help in his recovery, he suffered a broken pelvis, damaged lung, and internal injuries. The exact status of his current condition is unknown though he has been active on social media.
Friends and family members have taken to social media to blast Petry for not being forthcoming about the wreck. Petry was located by a Daytona Beach News-Journal reporter at his home more than a month ago and asked about the social media posts and comments.
“There’s a lot of lies out there,” he said from behind closed doors. “My lawyer went to FHP and they already knew my name.”
He did not explicitly deny that he was the driver, but said, “FHP does not have a warrant out for me.” He also said “I’m not hiding.” Petry said his lawyer, Patrick McGeehan, had already spoken to FHP investigators.
McGeehan is a former Miami law enforcement officer who has extensive experience in DUI cases, according to his biography on Musca Law’s website. As a homicide detective, McGeehan “specialized in the investigation of traffic deaths as a senior traffic accident reconstructionist.”
McGeehan said the FHP hasn’t reached out to him or Petry since McGeehan spoke with the agency shortly after the wreck.
“Nothing has changed since the last time I spoke to you guys,” he said to a reporter on Jan. 24.
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Matt Olszewski is a criminal defense attorney who founded the FL DUI Group law firm in Orlando. His background includes providing training to attorneys and law enforcement officers related to prosecuting and investigating DUI cases.
The timing of an arrest matters, he says.
Authorities typically wait to make an arrest to ensure enough time is given to collect and process enough evidence properly. When they arrest someone, the clock starts on a person’s right to a speedy trial and authorities don’t want to rush the process and miss things, he said.
“They don’t arrest someone right away because they are probably still in the process, especially if they have the car, running tests and all that,” he said.
If evidence is available, an arrest could come in a month or two in hit-and-run deaths, he said. Blood tests can slow the process down.
If alcohol were involved, a DUI manslaughter charge “would be impossible to prove” unless the driver went to a hospital and had blood drawn after the accident, Olszewski said. Then authorities could attempt to get that person’s medical records and blood alcohol content from the hospital.
Pumphrey is a former law enforcement officer and prosecutor for the State Attorney’s Office in Pinellas County. The firm offers representation against DUI manslaughter and other criminal charges.
“Typically, and not always, when a driver leaves the scene of an accident, they either have pending warrants, (or) they might have a head injury and they’re disoriented,” he said. “Many times they’re drunk driving or they have drugs in their system, and so they flee.”
A key component for investigators’ is finding enough evidence to show who was behind the wheel when the wreck happened. And that can take a while, including getting DNA testing back.
Investigators also look at whether the driver was under the influence of alcohol or drugs “to the extent that their normal faculties were impaired,” he said. Investigators could be talking to people in the area of the wreck and looking at things such as whether there is video evidence, where the driver went after the wreck and where he was before the wreck ― like if people saw the driver at a bar drunk before the wreck, Pumphrey said.
Beyond DNA, prosecutors can issue a subpoena for a passenger to testify as to who the driver was, he said. Someone who refuses to testify could be held in contempt.
But there’s also the possibility of a witness invoking his or her Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination, Olszewski said.
Authorities typically want to make an arrest as quickly as possible, though, in part because evidence and people’s memories tend to fade with time, Pumphrey said.
“I mean no matter what, this is a tragedy; it doesn’t matter how it turns out. … But it takes a lot of resources for law enforcement to identify who the actual driver was, and the state attorney is going to require them to have a certain level of proof before they, you know, prosecute the case,” Pumphrey said.
Petry’s name came up because the boyfriend of Ms. Moser is friends with Dillon’s mother, Angela Gillis, Kyle Moser’s sister, told The News-Journal.
But hearsay isn’t allowed in court. So the passenger who was in the car would need to identify the driver herself ― for someone to tell authorities that she told them who the driver is wouldn’t be admissible, Olszewski said.
The family of Dulin is also upset, according to posts on her still-active Instagram account. A post commented on The News-Journal story, which also appeared in USA TODAY.
“If you are not hiding, please provide the police with the entire accounts of the night before and the morning 3 beautiful children were murdered and another was seriously injured,” it read.
Jimmy Dulin, Alexandra Dulin’s father, said in an interview with The News-Journal that the FHP told him that there is “a tremendous amount” of evidence in the case and that they know who the driver is. Dulin referred The News-Journal to the FHP for details on the investigation, including the identity of the driver.
“They don’t have any concerns over an arrest ultimately happening,” he said. “I’ve been told it’s a long process. There’s a lot of subpoenas. There’s a lot of warrants. There’s a lot of investigative work that goes on.”
Dulin wants to see an arrest as soon as possible, but he said the most important thing is that the charges stick. He wants the person responsible to go to prison, he said.
“What they did was a horrific and terrible thing,” Dulin said. “What they continue to do is tenfold worse because they’re leaving for their family a disgraced legacy. When you make a mistake, if you own it, then people can begin to heal.”
FHP Public Affairs Officer and Lt. Tara Crescenzi said via email to The News-Journal that the investigation is active and that details can’t be released.
“Investigators have collected evidence and they have to wait for the lab results from (the Florida Department of Law Enforcement),” she wrote. “Once charges or an arrest has been made, then I will notify all media.”
For Jimmy Dulin, there is still some denial about his daughter’s death, he said.
“We loved and continue to love our daughter. Every day is a different day. They all come with challenges,” he said.
There has been some comfort amid the tragedy, though. They’ve learned more about their daughter’s impact on the world through her social media followers, some of whom flew out to two services held in her honor in Indiana. That’s where Jimmy Dulin and his wife, Tamara, live. They also have a son, JD, who is 23 and is a university student in Jacksonville.
They’ve learned about how she encouraged people through social media messages as they dealt with addictions and abuse, he said. Her followers said that unlike other influencers, Alex would take the time to respond to direct messages. About 1,000 people attended the services, and Dulin estimated about 20% of the people came from out of state and had never met the family or Alex, he said.
“She lived her life to the fullest, you know,” Jimmy Dulin said. “I mean, Ali didn’t let a day go by that she didn’t enjoy.”
For Dustin Minton, Moser’s brother, who posted an angry message on Facebook regarding the apparent slow pace of the investigation, he just wants justice.
“I don’t understand what more they need to arrest this guy,” he wrote in part. “I can’t imagine how many other families are going through this because evidence can’t get processed in a timely manner.”
Minton couldn’t be reached for comment.
Patricio Balona contributed to this report.