JURY VERDICT: Man guilty of aggravated battery after striking man with stolen semi

Noah Worthington was angry when he found out he’d been fired from his job as a truck driver.

Noah Worthington

Another employee was sent to retrieve the truck from Worthington. But instead of gathering his belongings and handing over the keys, Worthington struck the employee and drove away in the stolen semi.

A jury convicted Worthington on Jan. 18 of robbery with a deadly weapon and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon causing great bodily harm. He is facing 20 years in prison and will be sentenced March 2.

Although it’s been almost 15 months since Tyler Reeve was struck in the right leg with the semi, he still deals with constant pain. Reeve has had numerous surgeries and is unable to do a lot of simple things on his own.

Assistant State Attorney Seth Solomon questioned Reeve, who walked jurors through the events of Nov. 1, 2016.

Reeve and another employee of Leonard’s Express – a truck driving company – were sent to where Worthington had dropped off his last truckload. They were told to retrieve the semi because Worthington had been disqualified as a truck driver and could no longer work for the company.

Worthington was asked to gather his personal belongings from the semi, which took him nearly an hour. But Worthington got back in the driver’s seat, cranked the vehicle, and backed it up a few feet.

Reeve began waving his arms at Worthington and stepped in front of the vehicle in an attempt to keep him from leaving. But Worthington put the truck in gear and sped forward, striking Reeve with the front bumper of the truck.

The force of the truck knocked Reeve down, but he was able to roll out of the vehicle’s path to avoid being hit again.

Worthington then drove the semi-truck to Jacksonville and left it there.

During trial, Worthington took the stand and claimed that during the hour he was gathering his personal belongings, he had a conversation with Ron Scafaro – the operations manager of the truck company.

Worthington was from New York, and his closest friends lived in Jacksonville. He told jurors that he asked Scafaro for permission to take the truck to Jacksonville, where he would then find his own way home.

He claimed Scafaro’s answer was yes.

But when Scafaro had taken the stand earlier in the trial, he testified that he never agreed to the vehicle staying in Worthington’s possession.

Worthington also claimed that he never struck Reeve in the leg.

But in closing arguments, Solomon reminded jurors that every point of Worthington’s testimony was not supported by any other testimony during the trial.

“Ron (Scafaro) came in here and testified, and every step of the way he contradicted what the defendant said and backed up what Tyler (Reeve) said,” Solomon told the jury. “The differences in the defendant’s testimony are each key point that’s critical to the crime.”

The defense argued there was no robbery because the vehicle was never in Reeve’s possession, which meant there was no force used in taking it away.

“Worthington did not have permission to use the truck for anything other than to get his belongings. That’s the only reason he still had the keys,” Solomon said. “And I can’t imagine a greater force of violence than hitting someone with a semi-truck.”

“All aspects of Scafaro’s plan were communicated to all parties, and the defendant did not follow those aspects,” Solomon told jurors, adding that he was confident the testimony showed Worthington was guilty.

JURY VERDICT: Lakeland man who killed construction worker guilty of vehicular homicide

Nearly four years later, Martin Kelly still struggles to talk about the night Shelby Shull was killed by an intoxicated driver.

Dustin Halstead, 24, of Lakeland.

Kelly was contracted to finish construction work on South Florida Avenue in Lakeland, and Shull was there to make sure he stayed safe as the work was completed in the early hours of the morning on July 23, 2014. Shull was pulling up cones so the two could move to another work site down the road when he was struck and killed by Dustin Halstead, who was driving home after drinking at three different bars.

“Shelby was there to watch my back, and he died doing it,” Kelly said, fighting back tears while on the witness stand.

At the end of a week-long trial, jurors convicted Halstead Jan. 12 of vehicular homicide and leaving the scene of a crash involving death. Halstead is facing 45 years in prison and will be sentenced on March 1.

Assistant State Attorney Jennifer Swenson walked jurors through the events that led to the fatal crash.

Halstead went to three different Lakeland bars, consuming a couple of drinks at each location – he closed his last tab at 1:45 a.m.

As Halstead’s vehicle approached the construction zone, his vehicle drifted to the left. He struck several construction barrels before hitting Shull just after 2 a.m.

Kelly heard the collision and ran over to see a dark, boxy vehicle driving away from where Shull’s body was laying in the roadway. Halstead did not stop.

Halstead’s girlfriend, Kelly Harrigan, was in the vehicle with him at the time of the crash. She was looking at her phone when she felt the impact and did not see construction barrels or a human.

After reading an article about how someone died on South Florida Avenue, Harrigan sent it to Halstead – he told her not to tell anyone.

But Harrigan had already mentioned it to her roommate, who called the Lakeland Police Department. When police contacted Harrigan, she confirmed Halstead was driving that night and told officers where he could be found.

Police found dents and blood spatter on the hood of Halstead’s vehicle. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement confirmed the DNA matched that of Shelby Shull.

Halstead told detectives that he remembered hitting traffic barrels but didn’t stop because he didn’t think that was a crime.

“There’s no way you don’t know you hit a person,” Swenson said, adding that the DNA proves Shull’s body was on top of the hood, which was directly in Halstead’s line of sight.

But the defense argued the DNA was transferred from a construction barrel – that Halstead drove by after Shull had been hit by another car. When Halstead ran into the barrels, they claimed, the DNA ended up on his hood.

Swenson reminded jurors there was testimony showing the barrels only weigh 30 pounds, and the denting on Halstead’s car was more consistent with a 200 pound victim. There was also a smear on hood, which could only have come from hitting Shull.

She also told them it was impossible for another car to have come through before Halstead without running over Shull, as his body was left in the middle of the roadway. And Shull’s injuries only showed signs of being struck.

“He was not run over,” Swenson said.

SENTENCING UPDATE: Ex-Principal who stole over $100K sentenced to 4 years

Ginger Collins pled guilty to stealing more than $100,000 while she was an administrator at McKeel Academy and Kathleen Middle School.

Ginger Collins, 46, of Lakeland.

Collins has already paid approximately $90,000 in restitution.

She was sentenced Tuesday to four years in state prison, followed by three years of probation. The remaining $16,000 was ordered to be paid while she is on probation.

Collins was arrested in January 2017 for stealing more than $83,000 from McKeel Academy. While she was entrusted with three school credit cards, Collins paid for personal bills, luxury items, and travel both in and out of the country.

Additional charges were added July 2017 when Kathleen Middle School realized 14 of the school’s iPad’s, valued at $10,000, were missing. Collins had stolen them before she resigned as Principal, and she sold them online for profit.

She also had possession of a Polk County School Board credit card and bought personal items, crediting her bank accounts with about $20,000. Collins created false invoices to cover up her purchases at both schools.

SENTENCING UPDATE: Teen sentenced to 15 years after high-speed chase led to girl’s death

Bobby McNeal fled from law enforcement in a stolen vehicle before he crashed it into a tree, killing his 15-year-old passenger.

Bobby McNeal, 17, of Plant City.

McNeal pled guilty in November of fleeing to elude causing death, grand theft of a motor vehicle, burglary of a conveyance, and driving while license suspended or revoked. Without a plea agreement in place, the sentence was determined by Circuit Judge Wayne Durden on Jan. 11.

Durden sentenced McNeal to 15 years in prison, followed by 10 years of probation.

In the early morning hours of Feb. 7, 2017, McNeal stole a car and led officers in both Plant City and Lakeland on a high-speed chase. When Plant City police attempted to apprehend McNeal, he intentionally struck a Plant City Police Department car and attempted to hit an officer who was on foot.

McNeal also hit a civilian’s vehicle and fled the scene, driving at speeds of 115 MPH and entering into the Lakeland city limits.

Lakeland Police Officer Warren Scott Hutton located McNeal in the stolen vehicle at State Road 33 and Socrum Loop Road. Hutton, who was driving his marked patrol vehicle, pulled in behind McNeal and began to follow him.

A few seconds later, McNeal began to rapidly accelerate, eventually reaching speeds of over 100 miles per hour. Hutton activated his lights and sirens to signal McNeal to stop, but he refused to pull over and continued to elude officers at high speeds for 16 miles.

In an attempt to get around traffic, McNeal left the roadway at the traffic circle on State Road 33 and Deen Still Road.  McNeal lost control of the vehicle and crashed into a tree.

After crashing into a tree, McNeal continued to resist arrest. After being forcibly removed from the vehicle, he fought with Hutton to avoid being arrested.

As McNeal fought Hutton’s attempts to restrain him, the vehicle burst into flames. Hutton was eventually able to restrain McNeal and drag him to safety.

After Hutton detained McNeal, he heard over the radio that a second person was seen in the car. Hutton asked McNeal if there was anyone else in the vehicle, as the smoke and damage to the car made it difficult to see inside.

McNeal repeatedly denied there was another person in the car.

As the flames began to grow, Hutton found a female in the front passenger seat. Hutton and members of the Polk County Sheriff’s Office removed her from the vehicle, and she was airlifted to Orlando Regional Health, where she later died from her injuries.

McNeal did not take the stand and testify at the sentencing hearing, but the victim’s mother and sister did.

In a letter read at sentencing, the victim’s mother told the judge that because of McNeal’s actions, she spent her daughter’s 16th birthday at her grave.

The victim’s sister told the judge McNeal needed to be punished for what he did. She added that she hopes he will be a better man once he is released from prison.

Assistant State Attorney Michael Nutter represented the State of Florida in this case.