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A True Crime Story About the Time my Lab Partner Killed Someone

A true crime story about the time my biology lab partner killed a man, 12 years ago.

It's the fall semester of 2010 in Florida. I am in my second year as an undergraduate and taking biology III. I had a lab partner named Derek. He was my age, 19, a fellow pre-med student and scholarship recipient. We were almost midway through the semester when he stopped responding to emails and showing up to class. We all know group projects are often unequal so at first, I wasn’t really surprised. 

Anyway, not too long after that another student came up to me in the lab and showed me an article from our student newspaper. My lab partner, Derek, was arrested in a fatal hit-and-run accident with a pedestrian and had been charged with negligent vehicular homicide.

 

Derek

The story goes that on October 16th 2010 around 1:15am Derek had “a few drinks” and left his dorm to drive to his ex-girlfriend's house in St. Augustine, a nearby town. On the way there, Derek was driving on US1, a very busy highway, and he hit a pedestrian. And…he kept going. When he got to the girl’s house he parked down the road, and she later commented that she thought that was strange. 

 

Scene of the Accident

 

But here’s where it gets really twisted...

Derek went to a friend's house, named Sky, and showed a group of childhood friends his damaged truck. At first he said he hit a deer but then admitted he “thought he killed a man.” He recruited some of those friends to help him clean blood, flesh, and hair off his truck. They dismantled some parts to hide the damage and get the truck ready to sell on craigslist, then parked it behind Sky’s house so it couldn't be seen from the road. 

Levi, a friend from the initial group he showed his truck to, that didn't help him cover up the evidence, reported it to the police. While he was speaking with the police, Sky texted Levi saying he, Cliff and Derek had finished hiding the evidence.

 

Derek was charged with leaving the scene of an accident involving a death, a first degree felony, and tampering with evidence, a 3rd degree felony. He was facing 30 years. Derek bailed out the next day on a $35,000 bond. Two of his friends, Cliff and Sky were charged as accomplices to the murder. It's unclear if Cliff spent much time in jail because he was a minor at the time, but he did have felony probation until recently, June 2022.

Derek, Sky, & Cliff

A year and some change later in December 2011 Derek was sentenced to 11 years in prison, followed by 9 years of drug offender probation for count one, and 5 concurrent years of drug offender probation for count two. His driver’s license is suspended for life. He is required to complete 50 hours of community service for each year of probation so 14 years of probation is 700 hours of community service.

Derek

It is unclear if Cliff spent much time in jail because he was a minor at the time. He got off probation last June (2022). Sky spent a year in jail, followed by 10 years of probation, which ended in March of this year (2022). 

The victim was found to be at-fault for the accident. He was also intoxicated with a blood alcohol level of .248, and crossed in an area that wasn’t the crosswalk. The prosecutor said that if Derek hadn’t left the scene and tried to cover it up, he would have been looking at less serious charges.

The victim’s name was Brian and he was 32 years old. He suffered severe head trauma and his leg was severed below the knee as a result of the accident. Brian was originally from Ormond Beach but had moved about 5 minutes away from the scene of the accident only a couple of weeks before his death. According to his family, Brian enjoyed sports and is remembered “as a man who was fun, loving and had an unforgettably determined nature.”

Brian

Brian was 1 of 4 pedestrians who were killed in that area during an eight months span between 2010-2011. Jacksonville, the neighboring town we went to school in, is or was at the time, ranked 3rd for most hit and runs. 

Fast forward to today, Sky and Cliff are in a band. 

 
Sky & Cliff

Derek was released in April of last year 2021 and has since bought a house with a woman who was arrested for a DUI in 2014.  

Today, Derek is about the same age that Brian was when he died.

 

Rest in Peace, Brian

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