A Brazilian race car driver who had faced DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide charges in a 2012 Miami Beach crash pleaded guilty Monday to a reduced, non-criminal charge of careless driving resulting in death, a prosecutor said.
Joao Paulo Escudero Mauro, 21, entered his plea to the traffic citation in a Miami-Dade courtroom as his case was closed. The conditions of his plea call for his driver’s license to be suspended for 10 years, Assistant State Attorney Suzanne Von Paulus said.
Escudero Mauro, 21, originally faced four charges in the Jan. 19, 2012 death of pedestrian Russell Knudson, 45, but prosecutors were unable to prove the DUI manslaughter or vehicular homicide charges, Von Paulus said in a statement.
He had also been charged with cocaine possession, after police said they found a small baggie of what appeared to be cocaine near where he was standing. But there was no evidence of cocaine in the defendant’s system, and nothing to tie the drugs to him, Von Paulus said. A fourth charge, for an altered driver’s license, was dropped during negotiations, she added.
As part of the plea, Escudero Mauro will also do 100 hours of community service at an emergency room or rehab center; attend one session of the victim impact panel given by Mothers Against Drunk Driving; make a donation to MADD, every year for five years, of the dollar amount of the victim’s age on the victim’s birthday; and go to the State Attorney’s Office and view the crime scene and autopsy photos of the victim.
Escudero Mauro already completed an additional condition, to write a letter of apology to the victim’s family, Von Paulus said.
Escudero Mauro was driving a silver Mercedes-Benz SUV north on Collins Avenue when his car swerved left and drove up onto the sidewalk at about 1:30 a.m. on Jan. 19, 2012, according to Miami Beach Police. Knudson, who was attempting to put his bicycle into a rear door of a four-wheel-drive Toyota, was struck and killed by the Mercedes, police said.
The Mercedes continued north on the sidewalk until it stopped just before 40th Street, according to police.
For the vehicular homicide charge, police said that Escudero Mauro was driving at about 60 mph in a 30 mph zone, but the defense disputed the speed – and the prosecution found that while he was driving over the posted speed limit, he was not driving an excessive or reckless speed, Von Paulus said.
“His speed was within 10 miles of the legal limit and consistent with the travel in the area,” she said. “And based on the speed he was traveling, there was no way he would have had enough time to react.”
Police said at the time of the crash that Escudero Mauro had a flushed face, bloodshot eyes and his breath smelled of alcohol. They said that he acknowledged swerving to avoid a vehicle stopped in traffic in front of him, and that he had been drinking earlier.
Von Paulus said that Escudero Mauro’s level was below the legal limit, however. She said prosecutors would never have been able to prove that he was impaired just by his blood alcohol levels alone, and nor could they prove that his impaired caused Knudson’s death, which is required for a DUI manslaughter charge.
“Based on the facts, the science of accident reconstruction, and the toxicology, the only ethical and legal way to resolve this case was by reducing the charges to careless driving resulting in death,” Von Paulus said.
During Monday’s hearing Escudero Mauro made a statement to the Knudson family, including the victim’s sister, who participated on a speakerphone.
“I just wanted to express my deep condolences to the family, and this was a tragedy to me and my family too. It definitely changed my life,” he said. “And I wanted to thank them for their (understanding), and I wanted them to know that although these proceedings end today, this story will never come to an emotional end to me and my family, and that Mr. Russell Knudson and the whole family will forever be part of my daily prayers.”
“Thank you very much. That means a lot,” Knudson’s sister said.
Attorney Lee Cohen, who read a statement from the Knudson family, said that the family’s lawsuit against Escudero Mauro was amicably resolved. He did not disclose the amount of the settlement.
The family was very moved by Escudero Mauro’s apology letter, Cohen said.
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