Tuesday, September 25, 2018
Public safety

Fly-fishing, zip-lining Tampa couple separated by strangers' deadly race

By Tony Marrero and Melissa Gomez, Times Staff Writers

TAMPA — Bill and Jane Swartz nearly had their bungalow in sight. Driving back from a doctor’s appointment Tuesday morning, the couple needed only to cross Sligh Avenue to reach their home on Highland Avenue.

They almost made it.

As Jane Swartz entered the westbound lanes of Sligh in a Toyota RAV4, a racing pair of pickup trucks barreled toward them at more than twice the speed limit, police say. One truck, a Dodge Ram, slammed into the Toyota. The force of the crash tossed the small SUV into a utility pole and in an instant ended a 15-year marriage.

Bill Swartz, 78, was killed. His 58-year-old wife was critically injured. And within 15 minutes of the violent crash, police arrested the Dodge driver and charged him with vehicular homicide and racing on the highway, among other crimes.

That man was Joseph Obregon, 31, of Tampa.

"It’s just so very hard to comprehend," Bill Swartz’s sister, Kathy Lanham, said after she learned he was killed.

Witnesses told investigators they saw Obregon revving his engine while stopped at the red light at an exit ramp from southbound Interstate 275. The rear tires spun and the back end of the truck slid as he turned west onto Sligh about 10:40 a.m., the report says, and a driver in a white pickup truck alongside him was driving in the same way.

The trucks stopped at a red light at Florida Avenue. When the light turned green, both drivers gunned their engines, witnesses told police.

"Both vehicles rapidly accelerated causing the exhaust to produce heavy black smoke consistent with rapid diesel acceleration," Tampa police Detective Ryan Jacques wrote.

The trucks quickly reached speeds witnesses estimated at more than 70 mph. The speed limit there is 35 mph. It would have taken them seconds to reach Highland Avenue, where Jane Swartz was about to try to cross.

After crashing into the Toyota, Obregon’s truck hit a Honda Accord, injuring the driver, the report says. Police did not release that driver’s name.

Obregon posted $11,000 bail and was released about 5 a.m. Wednesday. He couldn’t be reached for comment. The Broad Street address police listed for him is about 4 miles west of the crash site. A woman who answered the door said he was not there.

Jail records list his occupation as "driver."

He had two prior arrests in Florida, both on marijuana possession charges. One also involved theft of a motor vehicle. Neither led to a conviction.

His Florida driving record shows a recent speeding ticket in Glades County but little else.

The morning of the crash, the Swartzes were on their way home from the husband’s doctor appointment, said Lisa Payne, a close friend of the couple.

The Paynes and the Swartzes had traveled together to North Carolina, Maine and Georgia. For her 60th birthday, Payne went zip-lining with Jane, while their husbands stuck to fly fishing.

"We just would spend hours sitting around talking and laughing," Payne said.

The two met at a doctor’s office where Jane Swartz was a nurse practitioner. The women joined Krewe of Pandora and became fast friends as they worked on community service projects and took part in the annual Gasparilla parade.

Bill Swartz hardly acted his age and had a dry sense of humor that matched Payne’s, she said.

She said her husband and Bill Swartz were set to go Christmas shopping on Wednesday.

"I absolutely adored Bill, and we’re just heartbroken," she said.

When she heard the news, she helped detectives reach family members. At the Swartz home, she came across "I love you" notes from Bill to Jane.

Lanham, Bill Swartz’s sister, recalled him as a prankster growing up in Chicago.

He served in the Marine Corps before graduating from Western Kentucky University. He was so proud of his service, she said, he would attend events in his uniform. He tried his hand at a variety of jobs including photographer, teacher and airline worker. He married Jane in 2002.

"He was one of a kind," the sister said.

Payne said she visited Jane Swartz in the hospital Tuesday night and learned she was unresponsive but stable.

"She’s a very strong woman," Payne said. "So I’m sure if it’s possible, she’s going to come through."

Times staff writer Jonathan Capriel and senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Melissa Gomez at mgomez@tampabay.com. Follow @melissagomez004.

Comments
Deputy's wife texted 'Kirk has lost his mind' before murder-suicide, friend says

Deputy's wife texted 'Kirk has lost his mind' before murder-suicide, friend says

LAND O’LAKES — Samantha Keithley sent a series of disturbing text messages late Sunday, complaining about her husband to a longtime friend.“Kirk has lost his mind Kristin,” she wrote in one text to friend Kristin Kellin. &...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Shooter in Clearwater parking space incident makes bail

Shooter in Clearwater parking space incident makes bail

LARGO — Michael Drejka, the man who shot and killed Markeis McGlockton in a case that set off a national debate about self-defense in July, was released from the Pinellas County Jail on Monday afternoon.Always Available Bail Bonds posted $100,000 bai...
Updated: 11 hours ago
John Jonchuck set for spring 2019 trial in death of daughter Phoebe

John Jonchuck set for spring 2019 trial in death of daughter Phoebe

CLEARWATER — The day John Jonchuck was supposed to go on trial in the murder of his 5-year-old daughter, attorneys met instead to discuss a new trial date.The trial was delayed after Jonchuck’s attorneys raised concerns about one of the prosecutors’ ...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Firefighters respond to blaze in Lakewood High School gymnasium

Firefighters respond to blaze in Lakewood High School gymnasium

St. Petersburg firefighters responded to a blaze early Monday that began in the center of the gymnasium at Lakewood High School.According to St. Petersburg Fire Rescue, firefighters arrived on the south side of the school at 1400 54th Ave. S about 5:...
Published: 09/24/18
Pinellas sheriff’s SUV struck in chain-reaction crash on Trinity Boulevard

Pinellas sheriff’s SUV struck in chain-reaction crash on Trinity Boulevard

TARPON SPRINGS — A Pinellas sheriff’s deputy was caught up in a chain-reaction crash that took place early Monday at the intersection of Trinity Boulevard and East Lake Road. The crash took place at about 6:28 a.m., according to the Pinellas County S...
Published: 09/24/18
Dallas police say Officer Amber Guyger, accused of fatally shooting neighbor in his own apartment, has been fired

Dallas police say Officer Amber Guyger, accused of fatally shooting neighbor in his own apartment, has been fired

DALLAS — A white police officer accused of fatally shooting her black neighbor inside his own apartment was fired Monday for "adverse conduct," the Dallas Police Department said in a statement.Police Chief U. Renee Hall dismissed Officer Amber Guyger...
Published: 09/24/18
Pasco deputies identify body of man found in wooded Wesley Chapel campsite

Pasco deputies identify body of man found in wooded Wesley Chapel campsite

WESLEY CHAPEL — The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office has identified a body discovered Saturday in a wooded area as a 60-year-old Hillsborough County man.Two people flagged down a deputy Saturday to report a decomposing body in the woods north of Beardsl...
Published: 09/24/18
Five new details on Clearwater parking space shooting

Five new details on Clearwater parking space shooting

More than two months have passed since Michael Drejka shot Markeis McGlockton in the parking lot of a convenience store.While developments in the headline-grabbing case have slowed to a trickle as it crawls through the court system, the Tampa Bay Tim...
Published: 09/24/18
Hillsborough asking why rescue captain stayed back as patient’s friends performed CPR

Hillsborough asking why rescue captain stayed back as patient’s friends performed CPR

TAMPA — It was almost 4 a.m. when the man’s friends found him unconscious in a Riverview home and called 911.His breath was shallow and he was turning blue. With the 911 call-taker giving instructions, his friends performed CPR and waited.Ten minutes...
Published: 09/24/18
Police in St. Petersburg searching for missing elderly man

Police in St. Petersburg searching for missing elderly man

Police in St. Petersburg are searching for a missing elderly man.Shortly after 5 p.m., Frederick Mein, 86, drove his silver Toyota Tacoma pickup truck from his home on the 1500 block of 78th Avenue N to his daughter’s house a couple of miles away. He...
Published: 09/23/18