DNA Evidence and Stout Investigation Lead to Arrest in Hit-and-Run Death of Sean Lynn Ryan
FlaglerLive | December 30, 2013
Early on a Saturday morning exactly a year ago, Sean Lynn Ryan, 25, who’d spent most of his life in Flagler County and had been a familiar face at D.W. Automotive, where he was a mechanic, was struck and killed by a vehicle as he walked along U.S. 1 near Plantation Bay. He was the father of a young boy. The driver who struck him fled the scene.
On Friday, after a long and persistent investigation by Cpl. Randy Naugher of the Florida Highway Patrol and key observations and reactions by a Ryan family member, John D. Steele, a 48-year-old resident of Daytona Beach, was arrested and charged in Ryan’s hit-and-run death. The charge is a first-degree felony carrying up to 15 years in prison on conviction, and a minimum sentence of 21 months in prison.
Based on the evidence collected at the scene the make and model of the car that struck Ryan was linked to a red Chevorlet Trailblazer made between 2005 and 2009. The assessment was based on several vehicle parts recovered at the scene, including the front grille, glass from the right-size mirror, tinted glass from the right-front window, and other vehicle parts, one of which included the name of the paint (red jewel) used for the vehicle, and a part number. Media were alerted to spread the word. And Naugher continued the investigation.
An extensive analysis followed at the Medical Examiner’s office that enabled the investigator to determine how and where Ryan was struck, down to precise measurements of marks on several parts of his body that eventually were matched to the damage areas of the vehicle, once it was located.
On Jan. 14, William Hills, a Ryan family member, contacted Naugher and told him that a friend of his had observed a red Chevrolet Trailblazer being put on the back of a rollback wrecker belonging to Rogers Towing in a housing area of 8 Llach Court in Palm Coast. Hills got permission from the co-owner of Rogers Towing to look at the vehicle. But the Trailblazer was already on its way south—to Fact-O-Break, a paint and body shop in Daytona Beach.
The tow truck driver, Todd Pierce Jr., was stopped as he drove south on U.S. 1 toward the Volusia County line. Hills had a look at the vehicle, and Tracy Sarmento, the Rogers Towing co-owner, ordered the vehicle back to the Rogers compound in Bunnell.
Before carrying out the comparisons himself, Naugher relayed the key measurements he’d gathered at the Medical Examiner’s office to another investigator who was close to the Trailblazer and was able to compare the damaged measurements on the car: they were a match, as were the missing parts on the car. The spider-cracked right side windshield was consistent with the results of a collision with a pedestrian, Steele’s arrest report states. Naugher then conducted his own analysis in the Rogers Towing lot.
The vehicle was registered to John David Steele of 612 Williamsburg Drive in Daytona Beach.
Steele by then had already given a statement to his insurer, Infinity Indemnity Insurance. He claimed he’d struck a deer on Dec. 29, 2012, at 12:20 a.m., while northbound on U.S. 1. He reported neither passengers nor injuries, but he enumerated the damage to the car. Steele would also repeat the same claim to Pierce, the tow truck driver—but that he’d struck the deer on Old Kings Road, not on U.S. 1. (Pierce gave that testimony in a sworn statement to an FHP investigator). When Pierce went to retrieve the Trailblazer from where it had been parked, inside the garage at 8 Llach Court, in Seminole Woods, the front of the vehicle was covered with three tarps.
When Naugher first spoke to Steele and read him his rights, Steele agreed to talk, but then recanted and said he wanted to speak with a lawyer, according to his arrest report. But evidence collected was sufficient to establish probable cause and secure a warrant to further search and analyze the Trailblazer. Naugher did that, and had the Trailblazer taken to a Florida Department of Law Enforcement crime lab in Jacksonville. (Rogers Towing took it there.)
The results of the analysis were produced on Aug. 29. (Crime lab analyses are notoriously slow because the crime labs, which have been downsized, are understaffed and poorly funded.) The results indicated that Sean Ryan’s partial DNA was found in parts of the vehicle, including a “complete DNA profile” from the inside of the interior (right) front passenger door and armrest. The FDLE report noted that the likelihood of the DNA being that of an unrelated individual was 1 in 4.4 quintillion. In other words: next to impossible.
Vehicle parts were also closely analyzed “through macroscopic and microscopic examinations and comparisons of fractured edges,” concluding that the parts picked up at the scene matched those of the Trailblazer.
Naugher’s investigation concluded that when the crash occurred, Steele was driving the Trailblazer in the outside travel lane of U.S. 1, struck Ryan, caused his death, and fled the scene, neither stopping nor attempting to render aid to Ryan, as required by law. (“The driver of any vehicle involved in a crash occurring on public or private property that results in the death of any person must immediately stop the vehicle at the scene of the crash, or as close thereto as possible, and must remain at the scene of the crash until he or she has fulfilled the requirements” of state law.
Ryan’s death was the second in 13 months on Flagler County roads, resulting from a hit-and-run. In November 2011, long-time Palm Coast resident Françoise Pécqueur, 76, was struck by a car driven by Jamesine Fischer—the 57-year-old wife of Flagler County School Board member John Fischer—as Pécqueur walked her dog on Columbia Lane early on a November evening. Fischer claimed she hit a dog, and never told paramedics at the scene that she may have been responsible for hitting Pécqueur, who fell into a coma. Pécqueur died a day later. Fischer eventually pleaded guilty, and was sentenced to 25 months in state prison, just four months more than the minimum. She’s been serving the sentence at Lowell prison in Ocala, and is scheduled to be released in mid-2015.
Steele posted $50,000 bond and was released.
Ryan, born on New Year’s day, would have been 26 on Wednesday.