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Wednesday, Oct 22, 2014

St. Pete man charged in July hit-and-run fatality

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ST. PETERSBURG — Eric B. Jonasson and his friend, Shannon Gardner, were riding their motorcycles on Interstate 275 at night, weaving through traffic at high speeds, when they collided and Gardner’s motorcycle hit a concrete wall, according to court documents.

Jonasson told authorities he called 911 and pulled Gardner out of the roadway. He stayed with him until paramedics arrived, but then he rode off, the documents say.

The 30-year-old St. Petersburg man didn’t hang around because, he told Florida Highway Patrol troopers, he thought his blood-alcohol percent was above the legal limit and he didn’t want to get arrested, the documents say.

Gardner, 44, of St. Petersburg, died at Bayfront Health St. Petersburg from his injuries sustained in the July 30 crash.

On Monday, Jonasson was arrested on a charge of leaving the scene of an accident involving death. He was being held in the Pinellas County Jail on $50,000 bail.

Soon after the wreck, Gardner’s wife, Helene, alerted troopers that Jonasson might have bolted, the documents state. Jonasson had left her a voice message to that effect after the collision, which occurred in the northbound lanes of the highway, where it curves at the entrance to Interstate 375, the documents state.

Trooper Michael Wilder, the lead investigator, noticed that the telephone number Helene Garden said belonged to Jonasson was the one from which the 911 call was placed following the 10:30 p.m. wreck, the documents state.

When Wilder dialed the number Aug. 2, Jonasson answered and Wilder told him he wanted to meet to get a recorded account of what happened, the documents state. Jonasson became nervous and told the trooper to call him when he wanted to meet, and then hung up. Wilder re-dialed, but Jonasson didn’t answer.

The next day, Wilder and another trooper went to a St. Petersburg apartment complex where they were told Jonasson lived, the documents state. They saw him there covering up his motorcycle, then found him in an apartment. Jonasson acknowledged he was driving the red motorcycle that witnesses remembered.

The evening began, he told troopers, with him calling Gardner and then meeting at a gas station. They agreed to ride to a downtown St. Petersburg bar they often frequented. Before they left, Gardner dropped his motorcycle, an indication he might have been drunk, Jonasson said.

Jonasson said they were riding on I-275 at 75 to 80 mph before they reached the curve at the I-375 ramp, the documents state. Jonasson said Gardner was behind him, but when he slowed and looked, he didn’t see him. Then he saw Gardner flying in the air and landing in the roadway.

Jonasson said he stopped his motorcycle and ran back to Gardner. A lieutenant with St. Petersburg Fire & Rescue told troopers he saw a “skinny white male” with a red motorcycle wave them down, the documents state.

Jonasson “indicated he left the scene without speaking to police and providing the information that was required by law because he did not want to get into trouble because he thought that he was ‘DUI’ and wanted to avoid going to jail,” court documents state.

He didn’t admit that the two motorcycles had collided, the documents state.

Witnesses told troopers Gardner was behind Jonasson when he tried overtaking him and crashed, the documents state. One witness said Gardner’s motorcycle “appeared to almost strike the back of the lead motorcycle” before hitting the concrete wall, the documents state.

Wilder inspected Jonasson’s 2000 Kawasaki and found damage on the left side that was consistent with a collision, the documents state. Gardner’s blood-alcohol percent was 0.140 — almost twice 0.08, the level at which a driver in Florida is presumed drunk.

Jonasson was staying at a St. Petersburg hotel when he was arrested Monday morning. Authorities think he was trying to flee the area.

sthompson@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-6504

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