Tag Archives: leaving the scene

Time and Again, the Cover Up Ends up Worse than the Underlying Offense

The Lee County Sheriff’s Office recently released aerial footage from this weekend, when a man fled from deputies, wrecked his stolen vehicle, and jumped off the Edison Bridge into the Caloosahatchee River. He survived the fall, and was fished out by deputies. The footage is dramatic.

LCSO says Bryan Gray was driving a van that had been stolen. Now, Grand Theft Auto is a third degree felony. In Florida, that has a maximum penalty of five years. However, unless someone’s record is really bad, it does not generally score out to mandatory prison time. Since Gray fled, he’s also facing charges of fleeing, with a high speed and property damage enhancement, adding on a second degree felony. That takes his maximum penalty up to 15 years, and greatly increases his scoresheet that could lead to a minimum permissible sentence that is more likely to require prison. Plus, his stunt landed him in a hospital and it could have been much worse.

Another case is exemplar of the coverup far exceeding the underlying offense. This week, Courtney Gainey was sentenced in the death of 14-year-old Allana Staiano. She pled out a few weeks ago to charges of Leaving the Scene of an Accident involving death- literally her crime was fleeing the scene. Had she stayed, it may have merely been an accident and a civil traffic ticket. As it is, she was charged with a first degree felony, exposing her to up to 30 years in prison. The charge carries a four-year mandatory minimum prison sentence, but the minimum was thrown out the window as the judge maxed her out at 30 years. It was suggested that she had been drinking that night, but even if she had been drinking to the point of impairment, a DUI Manslaughter is a less serious offense than leaving the scene. Dui causing death is a second degree felony, again with a maximum 15-year sentence. Her flight from the scene directly exposed her to twice as much time, and the notoriety of the case likely contributed to such a harsh sentence for a first time offense.

Once more the flight, or the cover-up, ends up being more serious than whatever offense one is trying to avoid.

Don’t Jump in the River when the Cops are Looking for You

Konstantinos Georgiou Mug Shot

Konstantinos Georgiou Mug Shot

Once again, the cover-up/aftermath was worse than the crime. Konstantinos Georgiou fled from the scene of a crash. He tried to commandeer a couple of people’s vehicles, before jumping off the bridge and into the Caloosahatchee River to evade officers. The marine units finally caught up to him, clinging to the bridge supports, and had to take him to the hospital.

The sad irony here is that the crash itself was not a crime, leaving the scene of the crash is only a misdemeanor… but trying to break into other peoples’ cars is a serious felony. Reports indicate he actually fought with the occupants of at least one vehicle, which makes the offense a Burglary with Battery, a Punishable by Life Felony (or PBL). His escape attempt is likely to land him in prison for many years; while the initial offense was relatively minor. He was lucky that officers located him and saved him from the river, it could have ended a lot worse after jumping off the bridge!

UPDATE: It’s extra dangerous to jump in the water in Florida, he wouldn’t have been the first to get caught by an alligator: https://crimcourts.wordpress.com/2013/05/09/man-flees-cops-is-caught-by-alligator/

UPDATE 2: The News-Press spoke to a witness who indicates that the suspect did run down to where the bridge gets closer to the water before he jumped in. (Also, photos added)

Caloosahatchee Bridge, from the Fort Myers River District, looking North

Caloosahatchee Bridge, from the Fort Myers River District, looking North

Luis Gonzalez Trial for Vehicular Manslaughter of Tia Poklemba is Set for Tuesday

The Vehicular Manslaughter trial for Luis Gonzalez is set for next week, starting Tuesday. Gonzalez is charged with running over Tia Poklemba, then leaving her to die. He was one of Lee County’s most wanted for some time, and was featured on America’s Most Wanted. Tips ultimately led to his arrest in Mexico after four years on the lam, and he was extradited back to Florida last year.

Luis Gonzalez mug shot

Luis Gonzalez mug shot

The state has chosen to charge the case as Manslaughter with a Weapon, instead of Vehicular Homicide. Normally Manslaughter and Vehicular Homicide are second degree felonies, punishable by up to 15 years in prison. However, as charged with the aggravating factor of a weapon, this manslaughter charge is enhanced to a first degree felony, punishable by up to 30 years in prison. The vehicular manslaughter charge could also be enhanced by failing to render aid. The State must feel they have a stronger case that the vehicle was being used as a weapon. This suggests they may proceed on a theory of manslaughter by act or procurement, instead of by culpable negligence. If the Defendant was guilty on a negligence theory, that would suggest the vehicle was not a weapon.

I’m doing my legal nitpicking, because this case is probably not about the enhancement. This case is probably about whether or not they can put Mr. Gonzalez behind the wheel. The evidence reported indicates that Ms. Poklemba was run over twice, going forward and backward. There is apparently video of her hanging out with Mr. Gonzalez earlier in the evening. The challenge for the state will be proving that he was driving at the time Ms. Poklemba was hit. It may be a circumstantial case, which is difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

Just last week, the state lost a DUI Manslaughter case because they could not prove the Defendant was driving. The facts are very different: in that case, there was evidence that the other person thrown from the vehicle was the driver. But DUI manslaughter cases are difficult, especially if there is no wheel witness.

Gonzalez faces up to 60 years in prison. In addition to the Manslaughter with a Weapon charge, he is charged with leaving the scene of an accident involving death, also a first degree felony. Court watchers take note, two excellent attorneys in ASA Dan Feinberg and Defense Attorney Donald Day are likely trying the case.