May 23, 2002
Jury Convicts Barefoot Bay Teen of Vehicular Homicide
by Brian Monroe, Florida Today
VIERA, Fla. - It took less than two hours Thursday for a jury to convict Barefoot Bay teen Barry Dasher of vehicular homicide.
Police chased the 17-year-old through two counties last year, coming to an end in Melbourne when Dasher smashed a stolen Toyota into 20-year-old Jasper Henry Mendis, riding a motorcycle. Mendis died a few hours later.
Mendis, an aeronautics student from Kuwait, was in his junior year at Florida Tech.
State prosecutors argued through the four-day trial that Dasher killed an innocent man because he "hated cops" and didn't want to pull over -- putting residents, police and his two passengers' lives at risk.
Public defenders, however, countered Mendis' death was a "tragic chain of events, an accident but not a crime," adding police in pursuit were the real culprits.
Officers switched from following at normal speeds to a chase after police radioed to dispatchers that Dasher "rammed a police car." It later came out in trial he "ran at a police car," but never hit it. That crucial error factored highly in the victim's death, defense counsel said.
Not so, said Assistant State Attorney Rob Parker, lead prosecutor in the case.
"There was no doubt Dasher was criminally liable for his actions," he said. "The real issue was his age, and if the jury could follow the law. They had a tough decision, and I admire them for their courage."
After hearing the jury's decision, Dasher shook his head and looked into the audience.
Parker stressed in his closing arguments Dasher didn't deserve sympathy or mercy because he was only 16 when the crash happened in March of last year.
"Mr. Dasher slaughtered a young man," he said. "This is the only place in America you can hold him accountable. If you don't, it would be a travesty of justice."
One of the alternate jurors agreed.
"I feel it was the best decision," said Gerald Rotzal, 51, of Cape Canaveral. "All the evidence proved him very, very guilty. I believe justice was done."
A former Sebastian police officer testified he started following Dasher when the teen passed him in a stolen car traveling 60 mph in a posted speed zone of 40 mph. He followed the car into Melbourne, where local police picked up the chase.
Melbourne police followed the car from U.S. 1 and New Haven through a residential neighborhood and into the Southwest Recreation Complex on Florida Avenue.
About a half-mile farther, Dasher swerved around a police car barricade, barreled through an intersection and smashed into Mendis. Dasher hit a pole and came to rest in a field, trapped in the car. The impact hurled Mendis 75 feet.
A medical examiner testified Mendis died of lacerations to vital organs and, "multiple blunt force injuries" to his head. Mendis was wearing a helmet, but it came off in the accident.
Samantha Janssen, a passenger in the stolen Toyota, said she had nightmares for months after the crash.
"I just kept wondering if I could have prevented a death, if it was my fault," the 15-year-old said. "Dasher was my friend and I hope he learns and matures from what happened."
Janssen added she wants to see what Circuit Judge J. Preston Silvernail will do at sentencing, scheduled for Aug. 15.
Still, his sentence is half of what it was when the trial began.
His attorney, Assistant Public Defender Roshawn Banks, convinced Silvernail to drop a felony count of aggravated fleeing and eluding. To support the fleeing charge, a Melbourne police officer had to have his lights and siren on, but didn't.
"Mr. Dasher is very sorry for his participation in the victim's death," Banks said.