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Charges expected in crash that claimed life of John’s Island man

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER (Week of July 21, 2022)

A rear-end collision on A1A near the entrance to Bermuda Bay that claimed the life of an elderly John’s Island man two months ago may soon see charges brought against the driver of the rear vehicle, but investigation of the crash by the Indian River Shores Public Safety Department has not been easy.

The crash, which occurred just after dusk, involved two vehicles traveling northbound on A1A.

The rear vehicle, a black Mercedes convertible, slammed into the front vehicle, seriously injuring a John’s Island couple in their 80s, sending them both to HCA Lawnwood hospital, where the husband died of crash injuries.

The driver of the Mercedes was also injured, and she too was transported to the hospital.  While no breathalyzer test was administered at the scene, a toxicology test was performed at Lawnwood, as is standard procedure after a car crash.

Shores Public Safety Deputy Chief Mark Shaw said typically, hospitals provide the blood tests to detectives without a subpoena.  But not in this case, so officers worked with prosecutors at the State Attorney’s office to compel the release of the records.

Before a subpoena can be served on the hospital, however, the person whose medical records are being released – in this case the driver of the rear vehicle – must be served written notice affording them the opportunity to object within 10 days, and their argument be heard by a judge, Shaw said.

If service of the notice is not completed within 20 days, authorization for the subpoena expires and the State Attorney’s Office and police must start all over again to obtain a new, valid subpoena. That’s what happened in this case.

“The suspect did not accept service and she did not pick up the notice at the post office so it was returned to us, unserved,” Shaw said.

Finally a new authorization for the subpoena was obtained and officers hand-delivered the notice to the home of the driver of the second vehicle – a resident of the Orchid Island Golf & Beach Club.

On July 11, the subpoena finally went forward to HCA Lawnwood, putting the hospital on a 20-day deadline to provide the records, plus information on the chain-of-custody of the blood test and results. Vero Beach 32963 obtained a copy of the subpoena, but the driver’s name had been redacted, as no charges have yet been filed.

Should the test results show that the suspect driver was impaired when her car rear-ended the John’s Island couple at a high rate of speed, Shaw said “we would proceed with applying for an arrest warrant.”

While the document service difficulties stalled some action in the case, Shores lead Detective Sgt. Kyle Smith obtained other evidence to piece together exactly what happened.

Paint scrapings from both vehicles were collected and sent for processing, as were samples of makeup residue from the driver’s airbag, which deployed in the crash.

The Shores’ license plate cameras pinpointed when each of the vehicles entered the town on A1A from the south.

Records and video surveillance from a local bar have also been obtained, with processing of video in-progress.

“Obviously this is the final and most important piece of the investigation,” Shaw said Monday, referring to the pending blood test results.

Both Shaw and Chief Rich Rosell have met several times with the son of the John’s Island couple – who has been in town to care for his mother and take care of final arrangements for his stepdad – to keep the family informed of the investigation’s progress.