Man charged in hit-and-run that killed sailor

St. Augustine man charged with DUI manslaughter

Jacksonville Sheriff's Office booking photo of Francisco Mendez
Jacksonville Sheriff's Office booking photo of Francisco Mendez

JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. – After a 29-year-old Navy man was struck and killed crossing Third Street in Jacksonville Beach, police arrested a driver on charges of DUI manslaughter and leaving the scene of an accident resulting in a death.

According to a police report, Justin Reif (pictured below) was crossing Third Street in the crosswalk at Second Avenue South just before 3 a.m. when he was struck by a fast-moving car.

Reif, who was stationed at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, was pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics. The crash happened just steps away from a fire station.

A woman walking with Reif said the car did not stop, but returned a short time later. She said the driver got out, stood over Reif for a few seconds, then drove away.

"He was just kind of standing over him, just kind of looking like, 'Oh, I can't believe this happened. What do I do?'" another witness, Brandon Crawford, said.

Justin Reif
Justin Reif

Witnesses said they yelled at the driver and told him to stop, but he didn't listen.

Crawford said he and a friend were driving down Third Street when they saw there had been a crash. The 23-year-old said he and his friend decided to chase the driver when he drove off.

"We were going 80 (mph) to keep up with it, and he was still kind of pulling away from us. So probably around 80 or 90," Crawford said. "He was trying to get out of there."

They called 911, gave the dispatchers a description of the car, its license plate number, where they were and where they thought they were heading, Crawford said.

Jacksonville police stopped a car matching that description on J. Turner Butler Boulevard near Interstate 95. Crawford and other witnesses identified Francisco Mendez as the driver who struck Reif.

Mendez, 39, of St. Augustine, was arrested. The arresting officer reported that Mendez had the odor of alcohol on his breath and his eyes were red.

Mendez agreed to take a blood alcohol test, but the results weren't back as of Monday afternoon.

Police said they're thankful for the efforts of Crawford and his friend.

"We don't want the public going and chasing anybody down at high speeds. If they do it at a safe distance, controlled speed, it's very helpful to police," said Officer John McDonough, of the Jacksonville Beach Police Department.

"I just think we did something good," Crawford said. "I don't look at myself as a hero, no. I'd like to think anybody would have done that."

Mendez was booked into the Duval County Jail with bail set at $40,000. He posted bond Sunday afternoon and was released.

He did not return calls for comment Monday.