Suspect charged with felony murder in death of Pinellas County deputy

A makeshift memorial has gone up for Deputy Michael J. Magli, who was killed in the line of duty Feb. 17. He is survived by his wife and two young children.

A Pinellas County Sheriff’s deputy died Feb. 17 while doing his job and trying to keep people from getting hurt, according to Sheriff Bob Gualtieri.

Deputy Michael J. Magli, 30, died at the scene of a crash on East Lake Road about 4:34 p.m. He was in the process of deploying “stop sticks,” used to delate tires, in hopes of stopping a suspect that had been driving a high speeds in a reckless manner.

The driver lost control of his vehicle and collided with Deputy Magli’s cruiser parked in the median. Magli was standing outside the cruise and ended up pinned beneath it. He died at the scene.

The driver, Robert Allen Holzaepfel, 33, a transient was arrested and charged with murder in the first degree (felony murder), DUI manslaughter, a felony charge of driving with suspended license causing injury of death, leaving the scene of crash involving property damage, aggravated fleeing and eluding a police officer and a charge out of Manatee County for violation of probation for giving false information to a pawn broker.

Gualtieri said Holzaepfel’s vehicle sustained damage, but the man did not suffer injuries, which Gualtieri said wasn’t unusual with drunk drivers. He was booked into the county jail at 2:23 a.m. He is being held without bail.

The sheriff’s office reported Feb. 19 that Holzaepfel’s blood alcohol level the afternoon of the crash had been .230. In Florida, it is illegal to drive with a blood alcohol level of .08 or above.

Detectives are asking that anyone with damage to their vehicle as result of the crashes at East Lake Road north of Forelock Road between 4:15 p.m. and 4:45 p.m. on Feb. 17 contact Detective Syers at 727-582-6215 or email jsyers@pcsonet.com as soon as possible. In addition, any and all video footage is needed.

Holzaepfel has 16 prior felony convictions and was driving on a suspended license the day of the crash. Gualtieri said he was on probation until 2022. His past includes a number of property crimes.

The sheriff was emotional as he talked about what happened during a press conference shortly after Deputy Magli died.

He said Magli began his career with the sheriff’s office in 2013 as a part time criminal justice specialist. He became a deputy recruit in November 2013. He graduated from the police academy in 2014 and then went through field training. Deputy Magli was assigned to the Patrol Operations Bureau North District in Dunedin. He worked the day shift.

“He has a wife and two small children,” Gualtieri said. “He has a mom and dad and other family members. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers during this tough time.”

Deputy Magli was escorted from the Medical Examiner's Office in Largo to the Thomas B. Dobies Funeral Home in Holiday Thursday afternoon.

Gualtieri walked the press through the circumstances leading up to Magli’s death. It started with a call that came in about 4:25 p.m. about a white Ford F150 at the intersection of Forelock and East Lake roads. The driver, later identified as Holzaepfel, was passed out and unresponsive.

East Lake Rescue was first on the scene. They decided to break the window of the truck to try to help the man. But when the window broke, Holzaepfel fled the scene.

Two deputies were traveling northbound on East Lake Road and had stopped where East Lake Rescue was. They did not pursue, Gualtieri said.

“They did not get near him or follow him,” the sheriff said.

When Holzaepfel got to the intersection of Keystone and East Lake roads, a sergeant got behind him and tried to do a traffic stop as the truck approached the Woodfield Subdivision. The truck turned into the subdivision, then “immediately jumped the median and made a U-turn to go back northbound,” Gualtieri said.

“The sergeant did not pursue,” Gualtieri said.

He did observe the truck proceed westbound on Keystone Road. When the sergeant got to the intersection of Keystone and East Lake roads, he saw the truck sitting in the turn lane to go south on East Lake Road.

A deputy was at the intersection and came up to the truck and attempted to “pinch it off,” but Holzaepfel went around the deputy and took off at a high rate of speed southbound on East Lake Road.

“He was swerving all over the road, weaving, driving at a high rate of speed, engaged in very, very dangerous and reckless driving,” Gualtieri said.

Deputy Magli was traveling northbound on East Lake Road. Gualtieri said it was a situation where Holzaepfel needed to be stopped because of the way he was driving.

“Otherwise he was going to hurt someone,” Gualtieri said.

That’s when Magli parked in the median and got out of his cruiser to retrieve the stop sticks from the rear of his vehicle.

Gualtieri said stop sticks are used to deflate tires in situations where vehicles are traveling at high rates of speed and need to be stopped. He said using stop sticks is the safest way to do it and not endanger anyone else.

After Deputy Magli removed the stop sticks from his cruiser, he moved to the median to deploy them.

“As he was moving to the west in the median, the suspect’s vehicle spun out, flipped over and very, very violently slammed into Deputy Magli and his cruiser,” Gualtieri said. “The cruiser did a 180-degree spin out and Deputy Magli was pinned under the car and he is deceased.”

Gualtieri planned to go visit with Magli’s family immediately after the press conference.

Although he admitted it was part of his job, he said, “There’s nothing harder, but it is one of those things you have to do … They’re lives are forever changed. They’ll never be the same over a guy who was drunk and driving on a suspended license.”

He sent a message to other deputies to “keep your head high and stay strong. Stay tough and continue to do what we do.”

“Deputy Magli was trying to protect people. He was trying to keep others from being hurt by this guy who was driving like a maniac, drunk, reckless and going to hurt somebody,” Gualtieri said. “He stepped up like cops do and tried to keep people from getting hurt and lost his life in the process.”

The sheriff’s office has not yet released plans for a funeral service for Magli. Tampa Bay Newspapers will provide an update as soon as information is available.

A memorial fund is now open and will serve as the officially recognized fund for the family. Donations can be made to any SunTrust banking location.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.

Revised to add information about a memorial fund.

Revised to add information about Holzaepfel’s blood alcohol level and a request for help from the public.