Tuesday, January 27, 2009

After 26 tickets, driver in fatal crash still had license

The driver believed responsible for a wreck that killed three children in South Miami-Dade had a history of traffic infractions but kept his license.
BY DAVID OVALLE
Drunk driving, speeding, driving the wrong way on an expressway ramp -- in eight years, Gabriel Delrisco has been ticketed 26 times in Miami-Dade County for traffic infractions of all types.

But Delrisco, the suspect in the red-light wreck that killed three children in South Miami-Dade Sunday, always did enough to keep his license, records show.

That's not unusual in Miami-Dade's swollen traffic court system, lawyers say.

Since 2001, judges granted Delrisco nine ''withholds of adjudication,'' meaning he pleaded no contest, paid fines and attended traffic school. But those cases were not considered convictions and no points were added to his driving record, ensuring he kept his license.

Sometimes, police officers failed to show up in court. On some traffic stops, they cited the wrong laws. Other times, prosecutors decided there wasn't enough evidence to pursue cases.

On Sunday, Delrisco's driver's license was in good standing.

His attorney, Abe Koss, calls him a ``hard-working, decent person.''

''He has been trying to contact the husband and wife who lost their three children to offer his deepest condolences,'' Koss said. ``He feels terribly.''

Delrisco, 40, a divorced father of two, runs a medical lab company called Mobile Ultrasounds. A former dump truck driver, he has a commercial driver's license, records show.

He is recovering from surgery at Jackson Memorial Hospital.

''Did he probably deserve an adjudication with points on his record? Sure. However, the reality is, a more harsh treatment in court would most likely not have avoided this tragedy,'' said defense attorney Mark Eiglarsh, who is not involved in the case.

Florida Highway Patrol troopers are awaiting results of blood-alcohol tests before deciding whether to charge him.

Koss says Delrisco's driving history is ''irrelevant'' to Sunday's crash, which happened when his SUV plowed into the back of Hector Serrano's minivan at a red light at South Dixie Highway and Southwest 211th Street. The impact killed Hector, 10; Esmeralda, 7, and Amber, 4.

Koss suggested the brakes of Delrisco's black Chevrolet Trailblazer may have failed, but he said the investigation is just beginning.

''And that would be the reason there were no skid marks,'' Koss said.

Delrisco's first two Miami-Dade citations came in 2001: failing to stop at a stop sign and not having a license plate.

He pleaded guilty, paid $139.20 in fines and attended traffic school.

His most serious traffic violation: Also in 2001, when Pinecrest police charged him with driving under the influence.

A first-time DUI offender, Delrisco got the mandated punishment. He lost his license for six months and was ordered to serve 100 hours of community service and six months' probation.

After his license was restored, infractions mounted. Twice, his license was suspended temporarily for failing to appear in court.

In November 2002, he was charged in Florida City with leaving the scene of an accident. The charges were later dropped.

In June 2004, records show, Homestead police charged him with reckless driving. He was booked into jail and posted bond. Less than four months later, that charge, too, was dropped.

Most recently, in January 2008, a Florida state trooper ticketed Delrisco for driving the wrong way on a Palmetto Expressway ramp at Northwest 122nd Street. The charge was dismissed when the trooper did not show up in court.

For all his infractions, mainly moving violations, Delrisco has notched only 10 points against his driving record since 2001, according to state records. That's nowhere near the number required to spur a suspension. The threshold is high.

Under Florida law, a driver's license can be suspended for 30 days for recording 12 points in 12 months; three months for recording 18 points in 18 months; or one year for getting 24 points in 36 months.

Miami lawyer Robert Reiff, a drunken-driving specialist, said the traffic court system is geared toward keeping fines flowing into government coffers while keeping drivers on the road. He is not involved in the case.

''It's all about the money. Especially now in these economic times, it will be even more about money,'' he said.

Eiglarsh, the defense attorney, also stressed that traffic-related withholds of adjudication are necessary in a county as large as Miami-Dade. Without them, more trials would overburden courts and police departments.

''The system would shut down,'' he said.

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