Jury Divided on Convicting Stephen Paleveda in Fatal DUI Crash Trial

TAMPA, Fla. – A jury in Hillsborough County is deliberating over whether Stephen Paleveda should be held responsible for the death of Bamnet Narongchai, who was killed in a head-on collision five years ago. Paleveda is facing charges of DUI manslaughter, vehicular homicide, leaving the scene of an accident, and resisting arrest in connection with the crash.

The incident occurred when a Ford F-350 pickup truck, driven by an unidentified individual with its headlights off, recklessly sped through the streets of South Tampa. The truck disregarded traffic laws, including running red lights and driving the wrong way down one-way streets. Eventually, it collided with Narongchai’s smaller pickup truck on the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway, resulting in his instant death.

During the trial, prosecutors argued that Paleveda matched the description of a heavyset man seen near the F-350 immediately after the crash. When Tampa police found Paleveda, he was drunk, belligerent, and bleeding from injuries to his face and head. Blood tests taken approximately 90 minutes after the crash revealed an alcohol level of 0.27, significantly exceeding the legal limit.

On the other hand, Paleveda’s defense team contended that he was not the driver but was merely a passenger in his own truck. They suggested that his girlfriend had been the designated driver. Defense attorney Rocky Brancato claimed that the police mishandled the investigation and rushed to conclude that Paleveda was responsible for the crash.

The trial, which lasted four days, involved conflicting expert testimonies about Paleveda’s injuries and crash dynamics. Witnesses and police accounts painted a picture of the events leading up to the collision. Paleveda and his girlfriend had attended a wedding earlier in the evening where he began drinking. After returning home to Seffner, the couple argued, prompting Paleveda to leave in his truck. Surveillance footage from a bar reportedly showed him arriving and leaving alone.

The defense emphasized that the private security officer who followed Paleveda’s truck had essentially engaged in a high-speed chase, which they argued was unsafe. The officer ceased pursuit shortly before the truck entered the expressway. Ultimately, both trucks caught fire after the collision, hindering Paleveda’s exit through the passenger side.

The jury’s decision on Paleveda’s fate will determine whether he faces up to 60 years in prison. The outcome is scheduled to be deliberated further when proceedings resume on Monday.