PALMETTO -- A 20-year-old man has been charged with vehicular homicide in the death of an 18-year-old Palmetto High School student and football player.
Kyle O'Halloran was outside his home on Christmas Day in the 1900 block of 24th Avenue West in Palmetto when suspect Roberto Betancourt drove up in a Lincoln Town Car, according to Palmetto Deputy Chief Scott Tyler.
O'Halloran approached the vehicle, had some sort of altercation with the passengers and grabbed onto the vehicle as it tried to leave his driveway, Tyler said Friday.
According to the police report, Betancourt and two others had arrived at O'Halloran's residence to buy marijuana. O'Halloran had presented a small amount to Betancourt and the other vehicle occupants who then passed it around to smell it. Without paying, Betancourt began to pull out of the driveway, police said.
Betancourt deliberately accelerated away from the scene with O'Halloran hanging on, according to Tyler. Witnesses say the victim was hanging out of the window until he fell out and died in the 1800 block of 14th Street West around 5 p.m. Thursday.
Betancourt was arrested and charged with vehicular homicide, leaving the scene of a crash involving a
death, reckless driving and driving with no valid driver's license. He was booked into the Manatee County Jail late Thursday and a judge ordered him held without bond at his first appearance Friday morning.
Police said witnesses originally thought it had been a shooting because of trauma to O'Halloran's head, but Tyler said police are "sure there was no gun involved," after the autopsy was performed Friday morning. Tyler said they believe the trauma was caused when O'Halloran's head hit the ground after he fell from the moving vehicle.
Palmetto Police Chief Rick Wells said they are "still investigating" why O'Halloran was hanging onto the car.
O'Halloran was an accomplished athlete, playing as a fullback and guard for Palmetto High School's Tigers football team, which went to the Class 7A-Region 3 quarter finals in November. He also won the discus competition at the Manatee County Track and Field championships in April.
Palmetto football Coach Dave Marino said O'Halloran was a great person who was known for being unselfish.
"Everybody loved him," Marino said. "He would do anything for the people around him."
Marino said O'Halloran was engaged to Darrian Szabo, and the couple had a 3-month-old daughter together.
"He adored her," Marino said. "The last time I saw (his daughter), it was at the Southeast game. It was a great night, and he scored a touchdown, which was a crowning moment of the season for him. She was there with him."
Palmetto assistant coach Matt Braselton described O'Halloran as an ultimate team player who self-sacrificed and played many different positions so the team could have success.
"True definition of a teammate -- 'yes, sir'; 'no, sir'; always -- respectful, committed year-round and truly loved football and loved his teammates," he said.
Offensive coordinator Seth Varnadore also said O'Halloran was an adoring father.
"Beyond football, he was a great student, and loving father to his young daughter," Varnadore said in a release. "He had the potential to be a great man and great father. Unfortunately, he was robbed of that opportunity."
Marino said O'Halloran was also known as a great student and had a 4.0 GPA. He was planning to play football in college and was going through the recruiting process.
"He'd gotten into a few schools and was in the process of narrowing it down," Marino said. "It's just awful that all his dreams and goals and plans are over."
Palmetto Tigers quarterback Jack Allison tweeted late Thursday that he plans to wear the No. 4 jersey next year in O'Halloran's memory.
"Kyle's death on Christmas is profoundly tragic," Allison said. "I pray that God's peace and love will strengthen his family, friends and teammates as we all mourn his passing."
Police also cited Betancourt's failure to stop and aid O'Halloran and a failure to alert authorities as additional reasons for the vehicular homicide charge. Betancourt's car was impounded as evidence and is being processed.
Betancourt was also charged with driving under the influence with a blood alcohol content level greater than .15 and driving without a license on Nov. 7.
Relatives of O'Halloran and Betancourt declined to comment on the situation Friday afternoon.
Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, contributed to this report.
John Lembo, sports writer, contributed to this report.
Kate Irby, online reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Follow her on Twitter @KateIrby.