CLEARWATER — Authorities in two counties are searching for a New Port Richey mother and her two sons, and the woman's husband, who failed to show up in court in Pinellas County in a vehicular homicide case.
The Pasco County Sheriff's Office announced Tuesday it is looking for Jennifer Bruce, while in Pinellas a warrant was issued for Garrett Franklin Bruce, her husband.
“We've been doing a very in-depth investigation,” Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco said. “We've actually gone to the Tampa airport, we've looked at financial statements, we're looking at every lead possible to find out what happened to the mother and these two boys.”
Garrett Bruce, 33, removed an ankle bracelet and failed to show up for a pre-trial conference Monday, one week before his trial on charges of vehicular homicide and DUI manslaughter in a Dec. 11, 2011, wreck in Tarpon Springs.
If convicted of either charge, he faces a sentence of up to 15 years in prison, said Assistant State Attorney Greg Groger. Bruce was free on $100,000 bail.
Jennifer Bruce, 28, withdrew their two sons — Dillon, 7, and Brett, 5 — from Longleaf Elementary School on Jan. 10. She left a note for administrators saying the family was relocating, Pasco Detective Charles Moyer said.
She called her father, who lives in South Florida, on Jan. 13 and 20, and left messages for him but never spoke to him. She did reach him on Jan. 25, but was vague and never gave her location, Moyer said.
The family has not been seen since, although their only car remains at their Pasco home. There are no signs of foul play, nor are there signs the family gathered their belongings to move. All have been entered into a state and nationwide database, and will show up as missing if a law enforcement officer finds them and enters their information.
“The message is to Jennifer Bruce: Please call the Pasco sheriff's office up, please call your family up and let them know where you are,” Nocco said. “You may love your husband, however you have two little boys, Brett and Dillon. They need you now more than your husband does. They need you to love them and protect them and by going on the run, you're not protecting them. You're only going to hurt them.”
When Bruce failed to show up in court Monday, his attorney, Rex Blake, said, “I know he was very stressed.
“Obviously, there are a lot of questions,” Blake said in court.
Circuit Judge R. Timothy Peters had a no-bond warrant issued for Bruce's arrest.
In July, Bruce's bail bond company got a tip that he might try to leave, said James Brennan of James Brennan Bail Bonds in Clearwater. A bondsman picked him up, returned him to jail and took him off bond. Another company later took up the bond.
The traffic crash occurred at 3:14 a.m. on Meres Boulevard in Tarpon Springs, according to court documents. Bruce, then a manager at a Papa John's, was driving a 2011 Dodge Charger with two pizzeria employees, Elliot Lewis and Patrick Vosbein, court records show. The three earlier had closed the eatery, where Vosbein had brought several cans of beer, the documents say.
About a half-mile west of the Meres Boulevard and Carolina Avenue intersection, Bruce lost control of the car at a curve, the documents say. It crashed into a concrete utility pole, knocking it down. Bruce and Lewis, the front passenger, were wearing seat belts, documents say. Vosbein, riding in the back seat, was not, and he was catapulted through the windshield, landing on the hood. The 26-year-old Tarpon Springs man died three days later at Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point in Hudson.
Several beer cans were found inside the Charger. A blood test showed Bruce's alcohol percent was 0.103, the documents say. A driver is presumed to be intoxicated at 0.08 or higher.
John Murdoch, a professional engineer and accident reconstructionist, estimated the Charger was traveling at more than 100 mph before the curve, and was going 70 mph when it hit the utility pole.
Tuesday afternoon, Vosbein's mother, Patricia Walker, left a sign in memory of her son that marks the crash location on Meres Boulevard and drove to the Pasco sheriff's office. She said Bruce is running from his responsibility. She said she came from her home in Jackson, Tenn., for the trial originally slated to begin next week.
Now that Garrett is gone, she feels a promise she gave to her son as he died is slipping away.
“I had his hand on my heart and ... my hand on his heart and I said as long as (my heart) is beating, Mama will get justice for you,” she said. “And now I feel like I'm letting him down because (Bruce) is running.”
Deputies ask that anyone with information about the family contact the Pasco sheriff”s office at (727) 844-7711 or local law enforcement.
CLEARWATER — The Pasco County Sheriff's Office announced Tuesday they are looking for a missing New Port Richey mother and her two sons, one day after the woman's husband failed to show up in court in Pinellas County in a vehicular homicide case.