Only on Job a Week, No Union Protection, Terminated

According to a report, a nineteen year old  Jacksonville Sheriff’s Corrections Officer was arrested and charged after leading his co-workers on a high speed chase on February 4, 2017.  Joshua Vergara who had been a recruit for only one week with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has been charged with Fleeing or Attempting to Elude a Law Enforcement Officer, Leaving the Scene of an Accident Without Providing Information and Reckless Driving.

A review of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Arrest Report gives details into the incident.  A patrol officer first observed Vergara traveling at a high rate of speed on Old Baymeadows RD as well as ran a red light causing other drivers to “break abruptly.”  The patrol officer initiated his lights to pull over the vehicle for reckless driving.  At this time the patrol officer caught up to the vehicle and “got a very good look at the driver.”  Vergara did not simply pull over at this point, and instead chose to speed off nearly crashing into other motorists.  At this point the patrol officer states that he shut off his take down lights and terminated the pursuit, however continued to maintain visual contact of the vehicle as it turned onto Southside BLVD.  During the pursuit, a concerned motorist spoke to the patrol officer and stated that his vehicle was struck by a vehicle matching the description of  Vergara’s vehicle.  The vehicle was a black BMW with New York plates.

The patrol officer put out a “BOLO” (be on the lookout) with the description of Vergara’s vehicle and Vergara’s appearance.  While this patrol officer was writing a traffic crash report for the concerned motorist, other patrol officers in the area located Vergara walking around nearby residences.  It appears after the Fleeing, Vergara attempted to hide outside of someone’s home.  The homeowner called 911, worried that Vergara was attempting to commit a burglary.   While investigating the possible burglary,  the officers learned from Vergara that his vehicle was close by.  The vehicle was a black BMW, with New York Plates, with front end damage.

The initial patrol officer responded to Royal Lakes Drive and positively identified Vergara as well as the black BMW from the earlier pursuit.

Charges in Florida Can Vary Greatly

There are several different ways in which the State of Florida can choose to charge Vergara.  Fleeing can be a first degree felony punishable by up to thirty years in prison, a second degree felony, punishable by up to fifteen years in Prison, or a third degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison.  The difference in each is the severity in the nature of the offense.

Aggravated Fleeing in Florida is defined as any person who willfully flees or attempts to elude a law enforcement officer in an authorized law enforcement patrol vehicle, with agency insignia and other jurisdictional markings prominently displayed on the vehicle, with siren and lights activated, and during the course of the fleeing or attempting to eluding drives at a high rate of speed, or any manner which demonstrates a wanton disregard for the safety of person or property, commits a felony of the second degree punishable by up to fifteen years in the Florida State Prison.

Often times patrol officers write this exact language into their reports.  In Vergara’s report it is very clear that the patrol officer was in a authorized Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office marked unit with his lights and sirens activated.

Reckless Driving in the State of Florida is defined as any person who drives any vehicle in willful or wanton disregard for the safety of persons or property.  The law goes on to say that Fleeing a law enforcement officer in a motor vehicle is reckless driving per se.   A first conviction for reckless driving is punishable by a maximum of 90 days in jail and a $500.00 fine.  A second conviction is punishable by a maximum of six months in jail and a $1000.00 fine.

The leaving the scene of an accident charge is explained in Florida State Statute 316.061.  The driver or any vehicle involved in a crash resulting only in damage to a vehicle or to the property which is driven or attended by any person shall immediately stop such vehicle at the scene of such crash or as close thereto as possible, and shall forthwith return to, and in every event shall remain at, the scene of the crash until he is she has fulfilled the requirements of exchanging information or rendering aid.   Leaving the scene of an accident involving property damage is classified as a second degree misdemeanor with a maximum punishment of sixty days in jail and a $500.00 fine.

The State of Florida will rely on the testimony of the patrol officer to prove the elements regarding the Aggravated Fleeing and Eluding a Law Enforcement Officer as well as the Reckless Driving.  The hit motorist will provided the required testimony regarding the leaving the scene charge.  The trickiest part of any fleeing case is the identity of the driver.  In this case the State of Florida may rely on the officer saying “He got a good look” at the driver, the description of the driver given by the struck motorist, as well as Vergara’s own statements at the scene of the burglary 911 call in that the black BMW with New York plates and front end damage was in fact Vergara’s vehicle.

If you, your family, or friends are facing a situation like Mr. Vergara you will need the help of a skilled Criminal Defense Attorney.  Often times Fleeing and Attempting to Elude charges end in jail and or prison sentences.  Prosecutors and Judges often take cases of that nature extremely serious as they are potentially very dangerous situations endangering innocent motorists on the road as well as posing an additional risk to Law Enforcement Officers. For some local North Florida Judges, aggravated fleeing cases are one of their “hot button” cases.  This results in the Judge rejecting what he or she considers too light of a negotiated sentence, often times demanding years in prison.  If you are facing charges of Fleeing and Eluding Law Enforcement, Reckless Driving, Leaving the Scene of an Accident, or any other traffic related offense (Criminal or Civil), please contact the Forbess Law Firm for a free consultation and case analysis. Almost any North Florida criminal defense attorney in Duval, Nassau, Clay, St. Johns, Baker, Bradford, Putnam or Flagler counties, offers a free consultation and assessment of your case.

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