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Friday, Nov 24, 2017
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Family of dead Spring Hill woman angry about closed case

SPRING HILL - Frank Marzella said his mother-in-law didn't die because she overlooked a don't-walk signal. He said she was killed by an out-of-control motorcyclist. James Paul Conaty was cited for running a red light the morning of July 28 at the intersection of Spring Hill Drive and Aerial Way. A traffic homicide investigator concluded — based on physical evidence and witness statements — that Conaty was traveling at speeds between 45 and 47 mph when he collided with and killed Josefa Rodriguez, 73, who was heading south along the crosswalk.
No manslaughter charge was filed. The case also was reviewed by the state attorney's office. Conaty was seriously injured in the crash. He was airlifted to a Tampa hospital and survived. Witnesses interviewed by the Florida Highway Patrol said Conaty was going at least 60 mph, according to an accident report. One of the witnesses said the motorcyclist was exceeding 70 mph about a half-mile before he reached the traffic light. The speed limit along Spring Hill Drive is 55 mph and drops to 40 mph east of Aerial intersection. The investigator also alleges in his report that Rodriguez crossed the street on a don't-walk signal, which contributed to the decision not to prosecute Conaty on a manslaughter charge, according to the state attorney's office. Marzella said he, his wife and family were assured last year by law enforcement that Conaty's arrest was imminent. "How does he get away with this?" Marzella asked. "It's like the devil is on his side or something. It's unbelievable." Authorities suspected Conaty had drugs in his system when the accident took place. Paramedics administered medication to the injured motorcyclist, which mixed with the substances he already had in his body, according to FHP. As a result, investigators could not determine whether Conaty was impaired. He could not be charged with DUI manslaughter. That didn't mean vehicular manslaughter was off the table. "The job of the paramedics is to take care of the patient and I understand that," said Marzella. "But all the witnesses there said the guy was speeding. How could that be ignored?" Rodriguez moved to Florida from Venezuela. She has three daughters who live locally and a son who still lives in his native country. Marzella agreed to speak to Hernando Today on behalf of the family. He said news reports published by the newspaper earlier this month conjured many of the same emotions from 11 months earlier. "They have been in shock," he said of his wife and in-laws. "There's no longer any faith in the system." Conaty's hearing on the red-light citation is set for July 2. He has a long criminal history, which includes a conviction for DUI with bodily injury and a subsequent two-year prison sentence. He's had two other DUI convictions and various other traffic-related citations and arrests, including fleeing law enforcement, according to media and public records. Conaty's phone number has been disconnected. He could not be contacted for this story and he has not spoken publicly about the accident. He followed the advice of his attorney and didn't speak to investigators while the case was open, according to FHP. "This character has done this before," said Marzella. "I mean, come on. … I was sure there were going to be charges." Marzella, a native of New York, is spreading the blame. He said a lot of his frustration lands squarely on Florida's legal system. "I just don't trust it here anymore," he said. "I don't feel safe." He insisted his feelings are not motivated by revenge. A conviction and lengthy prison sentence, to him, would have been a just fate for Conaty. "We don't want the guy's head," Marzella said. "We're not those types of people. We just want justice."

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