PINELLAS PARK, Fla. (WFLA) – Hannah Levi will never forget the feeling. She says something inside her just clicked when she witnessed a grisly scene on the Howard Frankland Bridge Wednesday evening. That scene turned out to be an alleged hit-and-run fatal crash.
Levi tried to temper her shock as she quietly processed the gory images. All around her, rush hour traffic slowed to a crawl amidst the carnage. Her children craned their necks, curious about the chaotic world outside the safety of their family car. Levi described the surreal moment as equal parts horrific and heartbreaking.
“I saw the body and the bicycle, and I was just trying to realize what happened,” Levi said.
A man’s limp body lay crumpled on the hot pavement. His once-sturdy bicycle morphed into a twisted, almost sinister pile of metal. Turns out, that click Levi felt inside was gut instinct. Suddenly, the mama bear within her took over, and Levi got to work. Her maternal instinct merged seamlessly with the informal investigator persona she took on without hesitation.
Levi grabbed her cell phone and hit the record button. In a sweeping and fluid motion, she began documenting the case. Without hesitation or fear, the adrenaline kicked in, and the Pinellas Park mom solidified one of the most crucial pieces of evidence in this suspected hit-and-run case, in which a new Tampa Bay area resident lost his life.
The man was John Brennan, who was taking an evening bicycle ride, according to Florida Highway Patrol. Just 44 years old, Brennan was biking on what some people would call an odd path. Troopers told News Channel 8 it’s actually illegal. It’s possible Brennan didn’t realize what the laws were regarding the scenic water landscape as he pedaled southbound in the shoulder on the well-traveled bridge.
The driver in this case, according to FHP, is William B. Matthews, from South Florida. The 67-year-old was so out of it, Levi says, that he didn’t even know what happened. He had no idea what he had done, Levi said.
“The police asked him again, ‘What happened to your car?’ And he’s like, ‘I know I had this lady here.’ And, they’re like, ‘No, you didn’t.’ He had no idea that he killed someone,” Levi said.
When Levi saw a car speed away from the scene, she knew she had to act fast. She wanted to make sure she could give investigators a clear, precise description of the car, including the license plate. “You hear the information, and you get video that tells 1,000 words,” she said.
Levi became a crime scene photographer. She followed from a safe distance, she said, as the driver sped down the interstate.
Little did this mom know, there was another driver who witnessed the same graphic scene. That person also wanted to ensure a certain capture of the accused killer.
In the end, Matthews was taken into custody and booked into the Pinellas County Jail on multiple charges, including DUI manslaughter and leaving the scene of an accident involving death. He faced a judge in Pinellas County Thursday afternoon. However, the judge told attorneys the county does not have any jurisdiction in the case. The judge recommended the suspect be transported to Hillsborough for the remainder of the case.
As for this mother-of-three, her adrenaline levels are finally starting to stabilize. “I felt like I was in a dream. That’s when something just clicked. It was like, get the phone and make things happen,” Levi said. “I’m no hero. I just wanted to help.”
News Channel 8 talked with attorney Bryant Camareno about Levi’s actions and about the suspect. Camareno is a private attorney and former federal prosecutor.
“So she serves as the eyewitness to the crime because she testified or advised that she saw the body lying on the ground and followed this guy. She even went to the extent of describing that he put on his windshield wipers,” he said. “To me that’s calculating. That’s cold.”
“Calculated, cold, heartless. You know?” he added about the suspect.