NewsCitrus, Hernando County


Citrus County sheriff hits, kills pedestrian on US 19 in Hernando County, FHP says

Posted at 8:09 AM, Aug 22, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-22 17:57:15-04

HERNANDO COUNTY, Fla. — A pedestrian was struck and killed by the Sheriff of Citrus County on U.S. 19 Wednesday night, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

FHP said Sheriff Mike Prendergast was driving an unmarked Citrus County Sheriff's Office vehicle, shortly after 9 p.m., when the accident happened south of Woodland Water Boulevard in Hernando County. The Citrus County Sheriff's Office said he was returning home from a board meeting with the Sheriff's Ranches Enterprises, Inc.

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Prendergast was driving northbound in the outside lane of U.S. 19 when the pedestrian, who was either walking in or across the highway, entered his path.

"A person darted out across 19 and I hit him on the right side of my vehicle. I'm going to go back to see if I can find the victim," a caller stated on the 911 audio recording.

FHP identified the pedestrian as Ronnie Heath, 59.

"He'd do anything for you," said Gary McQuiston, the owner of Big Bears Tree Service.

McQuiston said Heath worked for him and was one of his best friends. Wednesday night, he said Heath went to hang out with his friends at a spot alongside U.S. 19.

"We'd like to know more ourselves," McQuiston said.

Prendergast is not facing charges, according to FHP's report. Troopers said alcohol, speed and distraction do not appear to be factors.

Toxicology for Heath is pending.

The Citrus County Sheriff's Office released the following statement:

"As with any fatal traffic crash, the Florida Highway Patrol will be completing a thorough crash
investigation. While on scene, Sheriff Prendergast cooperated fully with Florida Highway Patrol's investigation and submitted to all requested testing, which included a blood draw. At this time, preliminary information indicates
that alcohol was not a factor for the driver in the collision.

We will continue to update the public on the details of the investigation once more information is available. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of the pedestrian during this difficult time."

Heath's family told ABC Action News they are all devastated and at a loss for words. A relative said he leaves behind seven children, 14 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

"He was a hard worker, he took care of everybody," McQuiston said.