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Video: Fla. district chief charged in road rage incident

Video shows the St. Pete Beach district chief intentionally driving into a bicyclist on the median

By Tony Marrero
Tampa Bay Times

ST. PETE BEACH, Fla. — A video shot by a witness shows the moment that a St. Pete Beach district fire chief swerved his pickup truck into a cyclist during a road rage incident in Redington Shores last week.

Pinellas deputies arrested St. Pete Beach Fire Department District Chief Thomas McClave last Thursday, hours after the incident on Gulf Boulevard, on charges of aggravated assault with a motor vehicle and simple battery.

The video, shot by another motorist and provided to the Tampa Bay Times, shows McClave, 55, swerving his Chevy pickup onto a raised concrete median on Gulf Boulevard near 175th Avenue and making contact with the cyclist, 58-year-old Gregory Hicks. The video shows that Hicks stayed upright but had to swerve off the median and into a left turn lane for oncoming traffic.

The video, which is shot from the driver’s seat of the witness’s vehicle, shows McClave getting out of his truck and pushing Hicks as he is standing in the turn lane and holding his phone. The two men are then briefly obscured by a door pillar of the witness’s vehicle.

The witness filming the video can be heard saying to McClave, “Dude, you’re toast.” McClave waves at the witness and says, “Thank you, no big deal” and gets back in his truck.

The truck is McClave’s personal vehicle and he was not on duty at the time, according to the sheriff’s office.

A news release on the incident issued Friday by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office said that McClave intentionally drove onto the median “almost striking Hicks, who had to swerve out of the way.”

But an arrest affidavit states that McClave drove his truck “onto a center median area in the direction of Gregory Hicks making contact with Hicks while he was on his bicycle.” According to the affidavit, McClave “was involved in a verbal dispute” with Hicks.

Judge Elizabeth Zuroweste remarked on the charges during McClave’s first court appearance on Friday, made via video from the Pinellas County jail.

“Quite frankly, I’m surprised that the sheriff’s office did not charge you with aggravated battery as opposed to aggravated assault when the allegations are that you actually hit the person versus just tried to hit the person and missed,” Zuroweste said in a clip included in a story published by WFTS-TV .

Asked about the decision on McClave’s charges, a spokesperson for the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office provided a statement.

“Deputies charged the offense that they believed appropriate based on the facts known to them at the time,” Deputy Jaime Miller said in an email. “All arrest charges are reviewed by the state attorney’s office which makes the final and official charging decision. We have no further comment.”

A spokesperson for Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bruce Bartlett said the case is still in the investigation phase and the office had no comment.

McClave was released from jail Friday after posting $36,000 bond and has pleaded not guilty. The St. Pete Beach Fire Department in a statement last week said he has been suspended without pay “pending an investigation and final determination of possible disciplinary action.”

Don’t tarnish the badge
The badge is a widely recognized symbol of authority; it is also a symbol of public faith and trust

McClave’s attorney, Kym Rivellini, said Wednesday that she was limited in what she could say at this point in the case but that McClave wants to apologize when he is allowed to do so.

“As soon as there is an appropriate opportunity for him to be able to personally and genuinely apologize to the bicyclist for the incident, he’d like to have that opportunity,” Rivellini said.

Hicks declined to comment for this story.

The sheriff’s office news release states that McClave was driving his pickup south on Gulf Boulevard at about 5 p.m. when he came up behind Hicks as he rode in the shared travel lane. McClave pulled up beside Hicks and yelled for him to get out of the roadway, the release said.

The two men yelled back and forth for a short time, then Hicks rode his bike onto the raised median and McClave swerved onto the median. McClave stopped, got out of his truck and shoved Hicks in the chest twice and knocked a cellphone out of his hand as he tried to record the encounter, deputies said.

The witness who shot the video and shared it with the Times asked to remain anonymous. He said he gave the video and a statement to the sheriff’s office.

Generally, assault is a verbal or physical threat that makes another person fear for their safety. Battery occurs when a perpetrator causes bodily harm or makes physical contact against the victim’s will.

Under Florida law, the charge of aggravated assault must fit four criteria: The suspect unlawfully threatened by word or act to commit violence to a victim; the suspect appeared to have the ability to carry out the threat; the threat made the victim reasonably fear that violence was impending; and the assault was committed with a deadly weapon or with the conscious intent to commit a felony.

Aggravated assault is a third-degree felony in Florida and is punishable by up to five years in prison, though more severe penalties can be levied when a gun is used.

Florida law says that aggravated battery is when someone “intentionally or knowingly causes great bodily harm, permanent disability, or permanent disfigurement,” or “uses a deadly weapon.”

The charge is a second-degree felony in Florida punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

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