Drunk and high on cocaine, Robert Velazco blew his truck through a red light in West Miami. He ran over a young father on a scooter, causing critical brain injuries. But Velazco drove off, which might have doomed the criminal case against him.
Until a hooker stepped in.
The terrified prostitute, having just been picked up by Velazco on South Beach, was riding shotgun in his car that night in June 2014. She bolted from his car the second he parked. The woman flagged down a Miami-Dade cop, immediately led him to Velazco’s home and later testified as the trial’s star witness.
Velazco — who on Tuesday was sentenced to 20 years in prison — was defiant when cuffed that night.
Never miss a local story.
“The defendant said, ‘I didn’t hit that f---er. That f---er hit me,’” Miami-Dade Police Officer Richard Closius told Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Cristina Miranda.
A jury convicted Velazco in November of driving under the influence and leaving the scene of an accident involving serious bodily injury. The collision was captured by a red light video camera.
During the trial, Velazco tried to claim the prostitute, Leticia Suri, was the one behind the wheel. But independent witnesses put a man, not a woman, behind the wheel. And Suri, whose testimony was videotaped in advanced, proved more than credible.
“She was a very unlikely state’s witness,” said Sally Matson, a victim’s advocate for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, who watched the testimony played for jurors. “She risked harm and consequences. Without her, justice would never have been possible.”
The sentencing was bittersweet for the victim, Alex Rodas, 34, who suffered extensive injuries, including brain trauma and broken bones. The nerves on half his face are destroyed, leaving him in excruciating pain.
He must take a battery of pills every day and he suffers frequent memory lapses and barely sleeps, his wife told the judge. Rodas, a father of three who used to be employed as a bar back at a salsa club, can no longer work. He isn’t sure he’ll qualify for government medical assistance in the future.
“This tragedy — my whole life has been destroyed,” Rodas said.
As for Velazco, he’d racked up over 20 convictions before the accident, 11 alone for cocaine possession, as well as ones for burglary and grand-theft auto. In another state, he also pleaded guilty to sexually abusing a minor, Miami-Dade prosecutor Desiree Staeffler told the judge.
“The victim was 15 years of age,” Staeffler said. “Not only did the defendant almost kill someone, he also raped someone.”
Velazco, dressed in a jail jumpsuit, did not apologize to Rodas or the judge. He did, however, mouth “F--- You” to the police officer seated in the front row.