Citrus County sheriff fatally struck pedestrian on U.S. 19, troopers say

A pedestrian was hit and killed while crossing U.S. Highway 19 in Weeki Wachee Wednesday night. The driver was Citrus County Sheriff Mike Prendergast.

The Florida Highway Patrol said the pedestrian, 58-year-old Ronnie Heath, of Brooksville, walked onto the roadway in front of the sheriff's unmarked vehicle around 9 p.m.

The victim's friend, roommate, and boss, Gary McQuiston said there are a lot of people who are going to miss Heath.

"What a heck of a person he was," said McQuiston. "He was a hard worker. He took care of everybody."

Heath was an equipment manager for Big Bear Tree Service in Weeki Wachee. McQuiston said Heath went to the Panhandle after Hurricane Michael to help with cleanup. Heath was also an avid fisherman.

"I don't know how to tell everybody," said McQuiston. "But a lot of his friends are going to miss him."

McQuiston said Heath had an argument with his girlfriend Wednesday evening and left their home to have beers with some friends. On his way back, he was hit.

"She tried to blame herself," said McQuiston. "I said, 'You can't blame yourself.'"

After it happened, Sheriff Prendergast called 911.

"A person darted out across 19 and I hit him on the right side of my vehicle," Prendergast told Hernando County 911 dispatchers. "I am going to go back and see if I can find the victim."

The sheriff was returning from a board meeting for a non-profit organization. He was driving an office-issued, unmarked Chevy Tahoe.

"I need to go back and check on the victim," he told dispatchers. "Please send someone up here as soon as you can."

FHP had not filed charges.

The sheriff's office released a statement saying their thoughts and prayers are with the victim.

They said Prendergast complied with all necessary tests, including having his blood drawn at the scene, and alcohol does not seem to have played a factor on the sheriff's part. 

In light of the incident, the sheriff's office postponed a scheduled press conference regarding a drug bust.

Sheriff Prendergast was elected in November 2016, according to the sheriff's office website