A Florida man accused of intentionally striking and killing a 75-year-old veteran with a car was “smiling” and “laughing” as he collided with the elderly pedestrian, authorities said.
Justyn Pennell was arrested for first-degree murder in the the fatal crash, which occurred in Hudson, Florida, about 40 miles northwest of Tampa.
Around 2:46 p.m. on Jan. 9, deputies received a call from Pennell, who advised dispatchers he had just “hit a man and he believed he killed him,” according to a criminal complaint obtained by Oxygen.com.
Pennell allegedly admitted that he mowed the man down intentionally, the complaint stated. When deputies arrived on the scene, detectives said, Pennell was thrilled with his actions.
“He was smiling and laughing when he struck the victim,” the complaint stated.
The 21-year-old man, who was uninjured in the crash, confessed to dispatchers before deputies even arrived on the scene, officials said.
Pennell crashed his 2004 Chrysler PT Cruiser into a power pole after colliding with the elderly man. His car was left inoperable, law enforcement stated.
The injured pedestrian was pronounced dead shortly before 3 p.m.
Deputies later recovered what appeared to be human hair and fibers from the victim’s T-shirt from the windshield of Pennell’s Chrysler.
During an interview with investigators, Pennell said he had been running errands shortly before the lethal crash. When he saw the elderly pedestrian, authorities said he made a U-turn in his Chrysler, and accelerated toward the man.
Pennell left his home on Jan. 9 with the sole intention of running someone over in his Chrysler, according to the Pasco County Sheriff's Office. The 21-year-old allegedly had “thoughts” to kill someone for several months.
“This man is absolutely evil,” Sheriff Chris Nocco told local reporters during a press conference on Friday.
“It was almost, for him, pleasurable,” Nocco also said. “It seemed like he got pleasure from that.”
The Pasco County sheriff said he believes other witnesses are out there. One witness who saw part of the incident unfold told authorities they observed what appeared to be other motorists pulling up, taking photos, and speeding off in the moments following the deadly collision, according to Nocco.
“If you see something horrific like this ... don’t stop and drive off — stop and help,” Nocco urged.
“We have a very solid case. We have a very strong case. But, at the same time, we have to bring as much justice as we can for this victim, so please, if you were out there, you saw something, we just want to talk to you.”
Officials said the fatally struck 75-year-old pedestrian was a military veteran. The unidentified man’s family described him as a “beloved father, grandfather, and Vietnam veteran,” in a statement sent to Oxygen.com by a spokesperson for the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.
Pennell made his first appearance in Pasco County court on Jan. 10. He’s requested a public defender. No court date has been set for his next appearance, court clerks said on Monday. He’s being held without bond. The 21-year-old doesn’t appear to have a criminal history, court records show.
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