Last year's chain reaction of 10 motor-vehicle accidents amid heavy brush fire and fog on northbound Interstate 75 was the fault of the drivers, the Florida Highway Patrol has concluded in a 600-page report.
Seven people died. Two dozen were hospitalized. Police said many were fatigued and speeding.Two were charged with DUI. A third would have been charged with DUI manslaughter, authorities said, but he died as well.
Our Fort Lauderdale DUI lawyers know this report comes following intense criticism of the FHP's decision that fateful morning to re-open the highway, despite the fact that a rash of earlier accidents in the southbound lanes (causing four deaths) had prompted them to close it down for a time. Within minutes of re-opening, what is believed to be the deadliest series of crashes in Florida history unfolded.
It's unsurprising that the FHP, given the authority to review itself, would find little if any fault in its own decision, instead placing the heft of the blame on motorists. We do know that the officer who made the call to reopen the roadway has since been promoted.
But all of this raises another key point to which our DUI defense lawyers often come across, and that is this: hazardous road conditions may contribute to what may be viewed as poor driving.
Of course, drivers are expected to react prudently to situations where they encounter unexpected inclement weather or bad road conditions. That might mean slowing down, activating your high beam lights or even pulling over to the side of the road until conditions improve. Drivers who fail to do so may not be using the best judgment, but it's easy to understand how panic could take over in a situation like this. Still, a failure to react appropriately does not mean those involved did so because they had alcohol in their system or even that they met the legal definition for DUI.
We have had numerous clients who were initially stopped because officers observed what they perceived as erratic or reckless driving, when it was later revealed they were trying to avoid or react to a hazardous road condition. Officers have to take such matters into account before initiating a stop, and when they don't, it's possible a great deal of the evidence subsequently obtained in that stop may be suppressed.
In this case, the lead FHP investigator reported that the drivers would have had at least 150 feet of warning that they were heading into a potentially perilous situation. But with the speed limit set at 70 miles per hour, survivors say it was a matter of mere seconds.
Although two drivers were charged with DUI - one having a blood alcohol level of .105 percent and another of .123 percent, the highway patrol and the state attorneys' office decided jointly not to charge anyone else beyond that, given the "overall circumstances" of that early morning. It was also determined that the actions of the two charged with DUI did not directly contribute to the crashes.
If you have been arrested for a DUI in Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach or Miami, contact Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Lawyer Carlos Canet today at 1-866-727-5384.
FHP: Drivers made mistakes in I-75 tragedy, Jan. 26, 2013, By Greg Hamilton, Gainesville Sun
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