O.K. (not his real initials) was issued a criminal notice to appear on November 5, 2010, for leaving the scene of an accident in violation of Section 316.061(1), Florida Statutes. He immediately retained Jeffrey H. Garland to represent him in the matter.
O.K. could have simply pled out to probation, $200.00 fine, courts costs, restitution and an adjudication of guilt. In the distant past, more than 20 years before, O.K. had enough “run ins” with traffic problems to know better. The taste of a sweet and easy deal rarely lasts longer than the time it takes to leave the courthouse.
Attorney Garland’s investigation of the case determined that the circumstances arose at the turnpike entrance in Fort Pierce. The complaining witness alleged that O.K. “cut her off” as she was trying to merge into the “Sun Pass” lane. As everyone who drives in south Florida knows, a vehicle does not have to stop when it is equipped with a “Sun Pass” transponder and passing through an appropriately designated lane.
Attorney Garland obtained security videos from the turnpike plaza which had supposedly been viewed by the trooper who initiated the prosecution. Careful review of the video showed that O.K. drove at a prudent and constant rate of speed as he moved toward the toll lane. The complaining witness claimed that O.K.’s vehicle collided with her’s, and that he thereafter fled the scene. The video documented that the complaining witness actually moved into O.K.’s lane and, if there had been contact, the complaining witness would have been the cause.
The video did not show contact. The video could not, however, rule out the possibility of very minor contact. There was no movement, either by the complaining witness’s Jaguar, or O.K.’s work van to indicate that either had been involved in, or sought to avoid being in, a collision. There was no indication that O.K. sped up after the incident.
Attorney Garland examined O.K.’s work van. The trooper had indicated in his report that the work van had damage consistent with an impact with the complaining witness’s Jaguar. Careful examination of the work van showed that there was no physical damage to either the bumper, or front quarter panel, of the van. There was a mark which could have been the product of a paint exchange with the Jaguar. The sheet metal of the van was not bent or disfigured in any way. The impact, if any, would have been slight.
Following the incident, the complaining witness reported the matter to a trooper. Using the license plate address, the trooper went to O.K.’s residence. O.K. freely admitted driving at the time of the incident, but denied being aware of a “crash”.
Based upon the fact that there was no physical damage to the van, Attorney Garland maintained that there was a lack of proof that O.K. knew, or should have known, of his involvement in a crash. See Florida Standard Jury Instruction 28.4; State v. Mancuso, 652 So.2d 370 (Fla. 1995); Jones v. State, 666 So.2d 995 (Fla. 5th DCA 1996).
The complaining witness’s Jaguar was insured by Allstate, which had an adjuster photograph the Jaguar to document the claim. The photo showed two distinct contact points. The lower contact point showed a minor “scrape” which had white paint residue consistent with the color of O.K.’s van. The upper contact point appeared as a “dent”. Attorney Garland pointed out that the dent could not have been caused by this incident based upon the geometry of the vehicles and the lack of any damage to O.K.’s van which would correspond to the dent.
In this case, repair costs were not an issue – at least for the scrape – because O.K. was fully insured for property damage and had timely reported the claim to his insurance carrier.
O.K.’s driver license was valid and his driving history had been very good for the previous 20 years. There was no motive for O.K. to leave the scene of an accident, because he was fully insured and his license legal.
Under the circumstances of this case, the State realized that it would have great difficulty proving that O.K. should have known that a “crash” had taken place. O.K.’s insurance carrier had refused to pay the claim, finding that the complaining witness was at fault. The complaining witness’s story was at least partly contradicted by the dent which could not have been caused by the incident. Without evidence to suggest criminal intent or motivation to avoid stopping, the State elected to drop the case on January 26, 2011.