Driver missing as hit-and-run trial lawsuit moves forward

Dania Maxwell/Staff 
 A car rides past a memorial for Robin Wallace on Estey Ave on Thursday, October 4, 2012 in Naples, Fla. Robin was killed Saturday while riding her bike in the middle of the day. The identity of the driver who hit her is still unknown. Robin was 48.

Photo by DANIA MAXWELL, NAPLES DAILY NEWS // Buy this photo

Dania Maxwell/Staff A car rides past a memorial for Robin Wallace on Estey Ave on Thursday, October 4, 2012 in Naples, Fla. Robin was killed Saturday while riding her bike in the middle of the day. The identity of the driver who hit her is still unknown. Robin was 48.

Four months after a lawsuit was filed against Oakes Farms in the death of an East Naples bicyclist, attorneys representing the company say they can’t locate the allegedly responsible truck driver.

A process server trying to deliver a subpoena for Jon Price, now 60, said he could not locate Price at his listed address of 1380 Sweetwater Cove in North Naples or at his workplace at Oakes Farms. The Florida Highway Patrol reported in February that Price was the driver who struck and killed Robin Wallace in a Sept. 29 hit-and-run on Estey Avenue.

Attempts to locate Price through his family were also unsuccessful. Price’s brother, Rocky Price, told the process server Jon Price no longer works for Oakes Farms and now lives in Labelle, although he could not provide an address, according to court records.

An attorney representing Price on behalf of Oakes Farms, James Sparkman of West Palm Beach, said Monday he also did not have a current address for his client. Sparkman said by the nature of their profession, truck drivers can be difficult to locate.

“We’re not 100 percent sure where he is at this time,” Sparkman said.

Price’s seclusion prevented the Wallace family’s attorney, Miami-based David Bianchi, from taking his deposition as scheduled last week.

“They claim they don’t know where he is, don’t know his address, don’t know his cellphone number, don’t know how to contact him,” Bianchi said Monday. “It defies belief, but that is what they are claiming.”

With Price absent, several other witnesses in the case gave videotaped depositions at the Naples Hilton on Tuesday and Wednesday. The witnesses include Rocky Price; Cpl. John Benton, the FHP traffic homicide investigator; Charles “Buster” Grogan, an Oakes Farms driver; Denise Rupert, a resident on Estey Avenue; and Alfie and Eric Oakes, of Oakes Farms, according to documents filed in court.

Media requests to attend the depositions Wednesday were denied by Sparkman and other attorneys for Oakes Farms, and on Thursday, they filed a motion for a gag order to prevent those involved in the case from speaking to the press.

Sparkman said Monday he is concerned news reports will bias a potential jury pool.

Bianchi, the Wallace family attorney, said he still hopes to hire an expert to recreate the circumstances of the crash. He has requested to use the actual truck that hit Wallace, saying it will show “how easy it would have been for (Price) to see Mrs. Wallace, if he had been paying attention.”

A hearing has been set for June that will determine if Bianchi may proceed with the re-enactment.

Price does not face criminal charges in the death of Robin Wallace, although he was cited in February for failure to obey a traffic control device because of a sign on Estey Avenue prohibiting the travel of trucks weighing more than 1 ton.

In April, FHP investigators said there was evidence to prove Price was the driver, but not enough to prove that he knew he had struck Wallace.

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