TAMPA, FL – After concerned residents held two marches demanding answers in the death of 15-year-old Josiah Pinner, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister went on the record Tuesday, Jan. 22, to assure the public that the accident that killed Pinner is being thoroughly investigated.
The Buchanan Middle School student was killed Thursday, Jan. 11 when he was struck by an unmarked sheriff’s car driven by an undercover deputy while crossing North Florida Avenue at East 124th Avenue in the University Area.
Although the investigation has not been completed, Chronister said he met with Pinner’s parents, Jay Pinner and Joanne Rojas, before the press conference Tuesday to answer what questions he could.
“This investigation is truly complex and it is far from being over but we’re committed to being transparent,” said Chronister. “I assure the community we’re not trying to hide anything.”
Chronister said the undercover detective, Deputy Philip J. Montesi, was driving an unmarked 2011 Hyundai Elantra north on Florida Avenue approaching 124th Avenue at 6:25 p.m. A marked sheriff’s vehicle driven by Deputy Andrew Van Guilder was following about 30 yards behind him.
The deputies were conducting mobile surveillance and were on their way to meet up with other team members.
Montesi had a green light so he proceeded through the intersection. He spotted Pinner’s 14-year-old friend walking his bike across Florida Avenue outside the marked crosswalk. Montesi swerved to avoid hitting the 14-year-old but didn’t see Pinner following behind his friend until it was too late.
“Four independent witnesses testified that the teens had a red light and were not in the crosswalk,” said Chronister.
The sheriff added that reports that Montesi left the accident scene are “completely false.”
Chronister said he traveled past the accident scene, got out of his vehicle to conduct a cursory inspection of the car, and then returned to the accident scene. By that time, Van Guilder had stopped, activated his emergency lights and positioned his marked sheriff’s vehicle to preserve the scene.
Both deputies then began rendering medical aid until paramedics arrived. Paramedics were unable to revive the teen and he was pronounced dead at the scene.
Chronister conceded that Montesi was traveling at 66 mph in a 45 mph zone to catch up with his team. Once the investigation is complete, it will be turned over to the sheriff’s Professional Standards Unit to determine if Montesi followed sheriff’s office policies and procedures.
“I understand there’s been a lot of emotion with this case. Emotion should be high when we have the loss of a young life,” the sheriff said. “I just ask for the benefit of the doubt.”
Pinner’s parents left the sheriff’s office without addressed the media.
“I think they took solace in the fact that they had answers,” Chronister said. “I don’t think we could apologize enough for their son’s loss of life.”
The 29-year-old undercover deputy has taken a voluntary leave of absence from his duties.
“He felt he needed to take time away from work. He is struggling,” said Chronister. “He’s dealing with a lot of grief that he caused a death and is seeking professional counseling.”
Montesi joined the sheriff’s office in 2013 and has been involved in three crashes while on duty — one in 2016 and two in 2017. Two of those accidents were declared “unavoidable” and the third was determined to be “excusable.”
“As a father, I cannot imagine losing a child,” said Chronister. “I am hopeful that, out of this tragic event, greater conversations and efforts to educate our children in the area of pedestrian and bicycle safety take place to prevent future tragedies.”
A GoFundMe campaign has raised $3,260 to help the family with funeral expenses.