Florida Highway Patrol trooper Daniel Cruz was severely injured on December 10 in a crash that reportedly involved a drunk driver. The driver was identified as John Bencosme of northwest Miami-Dade.
According to the police report, the crash took place at 1 a.m. on Okeechobee Road near the Palmetto Expressway. Cruz, 29, was working on the scene of two-vehicle crash that took place earlier in the night when he was hit, FHP trooper Joe Sanchez told the press.
Someone driving a Hyundai Velastar crashed into one of the vehicles from the earlier accident. The impact pushed that vehicle into Cruz, who was thrown several feet into the air, the report said.
The driver of the Hyundai was identified as Bencosme. FHP troopers who arrived at the scene reported smelling alcohol on his breath, so they conducted a series of field sobriety tests. Bencosme’s blood alcohol level was reportedly .201 and then .190 three minutes later. Both readings are more than twice the legal limit (.08) in the state of Florida.
“It’s the greatest fear that we face,” Sanchez told news sources. “Our roads have gotten to the point where troopers are more scared to be hit by a car than to be shot out there while they are performing their duties.”
Cruz seriously injured his legs and back. He was taken to Jackson Memorial Hospital where he reportedly remains in stable condition.
“He is alert. He is going to be out for about six months,” Sanchez said. “He did sustain some, you know, injuries that are critical . . . but thank God he is alive.”
Cruz has been a trooper for three years. His family members told the press that he broke a bone in his back and has ligament injuries that will require surgery. They said he faces a long recovery but he was alert and speaking.
Bencosme told WPLG-Ch. 10 that he feels bad about what happened and that he tried to offer assistance at the scene.
“I saw the officer on the floor, I ran to him as fast as I could,” Bencosme said.
Driving under the influence is a serious crime in Florida. State legislators have instated harsh penalties for DUIs because of all the deaths, particularly of youth, that have been caused by drunken driving. Law enforcement agents are expected to have a zero tolerance standard for drunk drivers, and as a result, the state handles a large number of DUI cases every year.
The fines and penalties for DUI charges become harsher with each DUI charge a driver receives. First-time offenders may receive a fine, driver’s license suspension for 90 days, and up to a year in jail. A second conviction within five years of the first one may result in a mandatory fine, driver’s license revoked for a year, mandatory community service, and mandatory jail of up to one year.
A third conviction results in a mandatory fine, mandatory jail time, and driver’s license revoked for three years. A fourth or subsequent conviction is a class C felony punishable by a mandatory sentence of at least one year (and up to ten years) in prison, mandatory fines, and driver’s license suspension for five years.