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Lawsuit claims USF liable in pedestrian death

The trial for a lawsuit brought against USF by the mother of a man hit and killed by a University Police car nearly three years ago opens today.

On Oct. 13, 2001, Jack Denton was walking across Fowler Avenue. near Nebraska Avenue when a UP car, driven by then-officer Jeremy Poston, now a deputy with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, hit and killed him, according to Paul Kimsey, attorney for Hilda Denton, Jack’s mother.

Denton was 34 years old at the time.

“Mr. Denton was crossing (on foot) from south to north across Fowler, while officer Poston was traveling eastbound,” Kimsey said. “Mr. Denton crossed three lanes of traffic and when he entered the fourth lane of traffic, officer Poston hit him.”

Questions surrounding the accident include Poston’s speed, with the dispute placing it between 35 and 50 miles per hour in a 45 mph zone, and the officer’s claim that another car blocked his view, Kimsey said.

USF graduate student Elena Ruiz-Aho drove the car in question of blocking Poston’s view. Kimsey said Ruiz-Aho and her brother Jorge are the only witnesses to the accident to come forward.

Ruiz-Aho said the incident happened at approximately 8 p.m., with no other cars in the area. She said she was in the lane next to Poston, and a little ahead of him, when she narrowly missed hitting Denton. It was then that Poston hit Denton at the knees, she said, causing what Ruiz-Aho described as a bloody death. Ruiz-Aho added that, while she is convinced the incident was an accident, she does not think Poston ever hit his brakes.

Ruiz-Aho also said Denton was not in a crosswalk, but was jaywalking across Fowler, a claim confirmed by Kimsey.

But, Kimsey said, Denton was near a well-lit intersection and was wearing a white T-shirt, so he should have been visible to passing cars.

The lawsuit, filed on June 10, 2002, does not ask for a specific amount in damages because, by Florida law, lawsuits do not have to request amounts; they only have to designate if the suit is for more or less than $15,000. Kimsey said the suit is for more than $15,000.

Bill Smoak, outside counsel for USF, did not return phone calls to his office and home Sunday.

Kimsey declined to comment on any settlement discussions that had taken place.

Poston could not be reached for comment. According to Kimsey, Poston was cleared of any criminal charges.

The court file was not available Friday because, according to a courthouse employee, the judge overseeing the case had checked the file out.

The trial, which Kimsey said he expects to last three to four days, is being held at the Hillsborough County Courthouse, downtown.