One DUI

 

Tomas Vojvodich picked the wrong Denny's restaurant for breakfast after a night out with a friend. Four Miami Beach midnight shift cops were inside eating.

For Vojvodich, it was a recipe for a drunk driving charge -- with nine police witnesses.

Each was subpoenaed to court four times, where they were eligible to earn three hours in overtime pay for every appearance, no matter how brief.

Taxpayers paid about $1,380 in overtime for the Vojvodich case. Yet only one of the police officers was necessary to prosecute the case.

It began about 5 a.m. in March 1996. Vojvodich and Frank Worrell, New Yorkers visiting Florida, stopped at Denny's, 6900 Collins Ave.

"I was a bit loud in the restaurant, " Worrell said. "I think they took offense to that."

When Vojvodich and Worrell left the restaurant, they got into Vojvodich's black Porsche, which was parked behind one of the police cars. Officers Glenn Hodges, Patrick Quinlan, Vincent Aprile and Frank Reeder were watching. They said the driver of the Porsche lurched into the rear of the patrol car, then left the scene without checking for damage.

Sitting and watching

"We were all sitting there and watched the guy hit my car, " said Officer Hodges, who made the arrest and did all of the DUI testing in the case. "He sped off."

There was no damage to the patrol car, according to a subsequent accident report. Hodges said city policy mandates such reports any time a patrol car is hit.

"There were scratches, " Hodges said.

The police decided to follow the Porsche. Two blocks away, they found it entering a parking garage.

"When they pulled us over, they told us pretty much why, " Worrell said. "We said, 'You're crazy. We never touched the car. The two cars never hit.' "

Hodges asked Vojvodich to do a roadside sobriety test. A fifth police officer, Leonardo Gonzalez, who was not at Denny's, watched the test.

They decided that Vojvodich was impaired.

More officers arrive

Two more officers, Rob Silvagni and a trainee, arrived to complete the accident report, which consisted of a three-line narrative and a simple drawing. Under estimated vehicle damage to the patrol car, Silvagni wrote $0.

Back at the station, Hodges asked Vojvodich to submit to a breath test. Vojvodich refused. Two more police officers, Hector Trujillo and Louis Dieppa, witnessed the paperwork. (Trujillo and Dieppa were arrested earlier this year on bribery and racketeering charges in an unrelated extortion scheme involving South Beach nightclubs.)

Everyone was subpoenaed to court: the four cops who were eating breakfast, the cop who watched the roadside test, the two paperwork witnesses and the two cops who filled out the accident report.

Defense attorney Debra Valladares said she spoke with most of the officers the first time the case went to court. "A lot of them didn't see anything, " she said. "It tells you a lot about the system." In the end, none of the cops had to testify. Vojvodich pleaded guilty to drunk driving.

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