A man found guilty Thursday of striking and killing a child with his truck in a Beach parking lot and fleeing the scene faces up to 30 years in prison at his February sentencing, State Attorney Larry Basford announced.
A jury took 20 minutes to find Kenneth Ray Martinez, 64, of Panama City Beach, guilty of Leaving the Scene of a Crash Involving Death after a 3-day trial. Circuit Court Judge Shonna Young Gay set sentencing for Feb. 18. He faces up to 30 years in prison.
Prosecutor Peter Overstreet called about two dozen witnesses and presented evidence proving the defendant fled the scene knowing he had hit a child March 29, 2022, in the Publix parking lot on Panama City Beach Parkway. He was arrested later that day at his nearby apartment, the truck parked outside.
The 4-year-old victim was vacationing here with her family. She was killed instantly when the truck struck her, dragged her, and then ran over her.
“This was a 4-year-old little girl with her whole life ahead of her and it was taken away from her in an instant,” Overstreet told jurors in his closing argument. “We would not be here today if the defendant had simply stopped his truck. Whether driven by fear, cowardice, or an indifference to that child’s life, the defendant chose not to stop.
Florida law makes it a first-degree felony to leave the scene of an accident involving injury or death.
The three days of testimony included numerous witnesses who saw the truck strike the child and leave without slowing down. Numerous Panama City Beach Police Department officers and investigators testified about evidence they gathered from witnesses and data from the vehicle showing it was going about 18 mph while the defendant talked to a woman on the phone. Surveillance video showed the truck running stop signs in the parking lot before the crash.
The defendant fled to his nearby apartment and testified he drove straight to his parking spot. Overstreet produced data from the vehicle that showed it made a series of shifts from “Drive, neutral, reverse” after entering the apartment complex, evidence the defendant pulled into a spot set aside for washing vehicles to hose down his truck. Also, hard water spots and trace evidence of fibers that did not come from the victim were found. The medical Examiner testified the severity of the impact should have left evidence on the vehicle.
The woman on the phone with the defendant at the time of the crash testified he yelled, “Oh my God” repeatedly and said he had hit a dog.
On the stand, the defendant, who for over 30 minutes would not open his apartment door for the numerous officers gathered outside, testified he did not realize he had hit anything. He also said he didn’t notice the people trying to chase him down following the impact.
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Overstreet told jurors the defendant’s story simply did not make sense and defied logic.
“He would’ve felt it and heard that when he hit and dragged that child,” Overstreet said. “And he did, because he kept going on and on during the phone call, ‘Oh my God.’ He will lie about anything if it’s about him. This is not about him. It’s about this child because she lost her life.
“Nothing you can do today will bring her back,” he continued. “But what you will do today by your verdict is define what happened that day outside of Publix.”
Basford thanked the multiple agencies involved and the Panama City Beach Police Department for the tremendous amount of evidence it gathered during its investigation.
For more information, contact Mike Cazalas at email@example.com, or call 850-381-7454.