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Man accused in fatal hit-and-run pleads not guilty

Driver accused of leaving scene had revoked license, 21 previous arrests

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The man accused in last month's hit-and-run death of a 54-year-old woman on the Northside pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges leaving the scene of a crash causing a fatality. Jerome Brennan, 39, was ordered to be back in court April 19.

If convicted, he could be sentenced to four years in prison.

According to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, Brennan was driving the rental SUV that hit and killed Stephanie Best on Feb. 28. Police said he was speeding in a residential neighborhood. 

Police said Best was driving north on Gillespie Avenue when an SUV traveling east on Drury Lane ran a stop sign and hit the driver's side of Best's PT Cruiser.

Police said two people, one later identified as Brennan, ran from the crash.

DOCUMENTS: Jerome Brennan's driving record | Hit-and-run crash report

News4Jax investigated Brennan's background and found he had 21 previous arrests in Duval County, including a DUI in 2005. Brennan's license was indefinitely suspended in 2009, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

The DMV labeled Brennan a habitual traffic offender in 2010, revoking his license for five years. When his suspension was set to end, his license was canceled by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

A state DHSMV spokeswoman explained that a person driving with a revoked or suspended license is given a citation, and after receiving three such citations within a five-year period, the person is considered a habitual traffic offender. Judges also have the option to revoke the driver’s license permanently, or they can order a specific suspension length, up to a permanent revocation. 

Brennan has been arrested six times for driving on a suspended license and has nine traffic offenses on his record, including tickets for speeding and failure to yield.

He also had six previous charges of theft, five charges violation of probation, three charges of drug possession, two charges of battery and one charge each of burglary and dealing in stolen property. His most recent arrest was on a drug possession charge in early February.

News4Jax asked the State Attorney's Office if it sought the maximum penalty against Brennan for knowingly driving on a suspended or revoked license.

The SAO responded with the following statement:

"Each case has its own set of facts and circumstances and are handled accordingly. The state takes all case information into consideration when making a sentencing recommendation to the court. The ultimate sentencing decision is made by the court."

The SAO declined to comment on the current crash investigation.

News4Jax spoke with a local attorney, Randy Reep, about what could happen next for Brennan.

“It's important to note though, that 21 arrests that he's had prior will now factor into his arrest. And what we find in these cases particularly where there's any type of aggravation here like what will probably be drug use here, is you'll see that more to the tune of a decade in prison,” Reep said.

Reep said a recent change to Florida law made leaving the scene of an accident without rendering aid a punishable offense.

He said from a legal perspective, Brennan will have a tough time defending his actions Sunday morning.

“If convicted, this guy's going to go to prison and probably for a double-digit set of years,” said Reep.

Police said a witness to Sunday's crash saw two white men running east on Drury Lane away from the SUV. The witness told police that one man was bleeding from the head and wearing no shirt and the other man was wearing a blue shirt. 

Investigators presented a photo lineup, and the witness identified the passenger, police said.

Investigators found the passenger, who identified Brennan as the driver. Another witness also identified Brennan as the suspected driver in the crash. 

Police arrested Brennan and charged him with leaving the scene of a crash without rendering aid resulting in death.

The SUV had been rented from a Hertz counter at the Orlando International Airport. A Hertz representative told News4Jax that the vehicle was rented to someone else and was supposed to have been returned on Feb. 23. Hertz has not said whether the vehicle was considered stolen.

A spokeswoman for Hertz released a statement:

"We are cooperating fully with local law enforcement and are unable to comment as this is an active investigation."

The spokeswoman said Hertz requires all customers to present a valid driver's license and an acceptable form of payment when renting a vehicle.