Elia Soto was arrested on Wednesday for allegedly causing a hit-and-run crash that severely injured Miami Beach defense lawyer Naphtali Hertz Wacks.
Soto, 44, is being charged with reckless driving and leaving the scene of an accident involving serious bodily injury. He is being held in lieu of a $30,000 bond and must remain on house arrest with a GPS monitor if he is able to post bail. News sources did not name an attorney for Soto.
According to the arrest warrant, the alleged crash occurred at around 6:30 a.m. on Tuesday along the MacArthur Causeway. Wacks, 57, was driving a Honda Civic west along the causeway when Soto, who was driving a rented Nissan Armada, reportedly crashed into him at speeds estimated to be over 100 mph.
Surveillance footage from the causeway reportedly shows Soto weaving through traffic at high speeds before he struck the back of Wacks’ Civic. The impact of the crash threw the Civic 368 feet into a wall. Wacks suffered a severed spine, broken ribs, paralysis in the legs, and collapsed lungs. The arrest warrant noted that he is not expected to survive.
Wacks is a defense attorney who runs a solo practice from his home. He was likely driving to Miami’s criminal courthouse at the time of the crash. His next of kin have not yet public commented on the accident; it is not clear whether they will file for damages.
After the crash, Soto reportedly ran from the scene and left his vehicle on the off-ramp of the Dolphin Expressway at NW 12th Avenue. It is not currently known whether Soto was injured in the crash. Video surveillance footage and an eyewitness place him as the driver of the Armada before the crash.
Soto surrendered himself at Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center on Wednesday night. At the time of his arrest, he was on federal probation for conspiracy to distribute cocaine. It is not clear whether he has been accused of any traffic violations or car accidents in the past.
A hit-and-run accident occurs when a driver hits another vehicle or pedestrian and fails to remain at the scene of the crash. Such an accident is considered to be a hit-and-run even if the driver is apprehended near the scene of the crash.
According to the Florida Highway Patrol, Miami-Dade County, Broward County, and Palm Beach County are the top three counties in the state for hit-and-run crashes. Palm Beach County ranked third behind Broward and Miami-Dade with 7,694 hit-and-run crashes that led to 12 deaths. Statewide, 179 people were killed by hit-and-run drivers in 2016.
Hit-and-run crashes have become such an epidemic in the state that the Florida Highway Patrol now has troopers solely dedicated to investigating such incidents. The total number of hit-and-run car accidents statewide has reportedly risen by more than 25% over the course of three years from 78,661 in 2013 to 99,004 in 2016.
As a result, state legislators have toughened penalties for hit-and-run drivers since 2014. Drivers who leave the scene of a crash face up to five years in prison. If another driver or pedestrian dies, the driver faces a mandatory sentence of four years in prison.