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