A Miami man who was speeding when he crashed into a carload of tourists making a turn on Tamiami Trail, killing one passenger, should never have been convicted of vehicular homicide, an appeals court ruled Wednesday.
While Luis Luzardo may have been driving carelessly, his speed that morning — 83.9 miles an hour during daylight on a rural road through the Everglades — did not amount to the proper “level of recklessness,” the Third District Court of Appeals said in an unanimous decision.
Wednesday’s ruling was a vindication for Luzardo, 46, an office manager and father of three children.
“While this was a tragic incident, he was not reckless. He is not the bad guy he was made out to be,” said his attorney, Alberto Acuna.
Luzardo is still facing a civil suit from the family of Rachel May Coulson, who was killed in the wreck.
The accident happened just before 10 a.m. on May 8, 2011, on a section of the Trail about six miles west of Krome Avenue. The speed limit on the two-lane highway was 55 miles an hour.
Luzardo was returning to Miami-Dade with a friend from cycling at Shark Valley, a popular recreation area in the Everglades.
Michelle Ward, part of a group of tourists from the United Kingdom, was driving west in a rented sedan, turning into a parking lot at an amusement park. “She needed to get to Gator Park by 10 a.m. to obtain a discounted price on the airboat tickets,” the court noted.
Ward started turning left but abruptly stopped when she saw Luzardo’s car approaching. He swerved but smashed into the tourist’s car, killing passenger Coulson. Initially, state troopers did not charge Luzardo but cited Ward with violating his right of way by turning left into oncoming traffic.
However, one year after the accident, Miami-Dade prosecutors dropped Ward’s ticket and charged Luzardo with vehicular manslaughter.
He was allowed to plead guilty to the charge — with the right to appeal. Luzardo agreed to serve one year of house arrest and three years of probation.
The appeals court found that although Luzardo was speeding, there were no “aggravating factors.”
“The accident in our case did not occur in a residential road congested with children, there was no ‘Slow — Tourist Attraction’ sign on the road where Luzardo was traveling. ... Luzardo did attempt to avoid the collision,” the court said.
The court, however, refused to hinge its decision on just speed alone.
“If Luzardo had been traveling at a speed of 120 miles per hour at the time of the accident, our decision might be different,” the court said.