Former model Valentina Hubsch came to court thinking she had a plea deal allowing her to avoid jail time for leaving the scene of an accident resulting in the death of a 21-year-old University of Miami student.
But after hearing tearful statements Thursday from the family of the victim, Judge Jorge Rodriguez-Chomat rejected the plea offered by the state.
Hubsch and her attorney were taken by surprise.
“I feel like we were ambushed,” said defense attorney Albert Levin. “The facts remain the facts, and my client’s role in this tragedy will not change.”
The victim’s role in the accident was not in question. On Nov. 13, 2010, Paul Jones was running through traffic on Red Road near 45th Street. Friends say he had taken LSD.
Police received multiple 911 calls of a disoriented man “in the middle of the road trying to get people to run him over,” according to a report from the state prosecutor.
Hubsch was driving north on Red Road in her silver Sonata just after dark.
She hit something, “so sudden and so frightening that I don’t know exactly what happened,” she told police later. She briefly pulled over, but stayed in her car, then continued to her home. She didn’t call 911.
The following day, she contacted Coral Gables Police through her lawyer to turn herself in. Both went to the station, but no investigator was present at the time. Hubsch returned the following day to give her statement. She was charged with leaving the scene of a crash involving a death, which carries a minimum mandatory sentence of 21 months in jail. She was not taken into custody.
Jones died from his injuries 10 days later.
After investigating, prosecutors determined they couldn’t prove that Hubsch knew she had, in fact, hit a person. They reduced the charge to leaving the scene of a crash involving injuries, which could include jail time, but is not mandatory.
The plea offered by the state called for one year of community control — which the judge likened to house arrest — two years of probation and 250 hours of community service. The family of the victim asked for 364 days in county jail and restitution to cover medical, legal, and travel costs incurred by the family.
William Richey, the lawyer working pro bono with the family, said the case is “not about vengeance and not about politics.”
He repeatedly pointed out that, despite the circumstances, it was clearly a hit-and-run case where the victim died.
“This is about the public policy established by the Florida Legislature,” Richey said. “Some jail time is appropriate to serve as an example to others.”
The family also hired a private investigator and a reconstruction specialist to investigate the details of the crash. They cited these findings in court, even though some details contradicted the state’s investigation.
They described a handsome, loving son and brother who made a bad decision with the wrong people. Jamie Jones, the victim’s sister, wept as she described her brother’s last moments “alone, lying broken in the middle of the street.”
“Forgiveness is our job, not the state’s,” she said. “Paul did not deserve to be on the receiving end of a justice system that cuts corners.”
Hubsch briefly addressed the family, offering deepest sympathy for the heartbreak they had suffered.
“As a mother myself, I pray for your family every day,” she said. “This tragedy has affected all of us.”
Despite the facts presented by the assistant state attorneys, Judge Rodriguez-Chomat rejected the plea offer.
He requested that all parties reconvene on Oct. 12 to discuss another plea or decide if the case will go to trial.
“I believe that the judge heard us and he understood,” said Betsy Jones, the mother of the victim. “This is a difficult case, and our concern is not to blame her for hitting our son, but so that other people know that it’s not OK to hit a person and drive away.”