Florida man pleads guilty in fatal "nitrous oxide" crash

Posted at 12:20 PM, Jul 28, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-28 12:20:47-04

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — A Florida man suspected of inhaling nitrous oxide from a whipped cream dispenser before causing a fatal crash has pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide.

Tucker Hoopengarner, 29, also admitted Wednesday to a charge of unlawful distribution of nitrous oxide, the Tampa Bay Times reported. The July 1, 2020, crash killed Jill Lawniczak, 53.

Investigators said Hoopengarner was speeding in rush hour traffic near Tampa when he veered into an oncoming lane and crashed into Lawniczak's Kia.

On the passenger-side floorboard of his SUV, investigators found a black commercial-grade whipped cream dispenser, which uses nitrous oxide cannisters as propellant, several spent cannisters and a box marked “XXX Platinum - 50 Triple Refined Cream Chargers."

None of the law enforcement officers working the crash said Hoopengarner appeared to be under the influence of a substance. But he did appear “spaced out,” according to a search warrant application.

A blood test taken after the crash detected marijuana, but yielded no other substances.

Though the evidence was thin, investigators alleged that Hoopengarner inhaled the gas and possibly went unconscious just before the crash. Nitrous oxide leaves the body within minutes, unlike alcohol and many drugs.

His defense attorney, Christopher Klemawesch, had argued the case should be dismissed, the Times reported.

But on Wednesday, Hoopengarner took a plea deal.

“I know he took it extremely seriously,” Klemawesch said. “I know it had a profound effect on him. I know he certainly wishes it had never happened.”

Prosecutors cited “reckless driving at a high rate of speed” in bringing the vehicular homicide charge.

“His sentence is consistent with the law as well as the wishes of the victim’s family, and we are proud to achieve the justice they deserve,” Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren said in a statement.

The judge sentenced Hoopengarner to six years in prison followed by 10 years of probation and 50 hours of community service.