Broward County

A cyclist dies on the road. A driver is charged. But is there a drinking problem?

Arrest affidavits quote witnesses as saying Philip Varsam drank steadily in the hours before Alkiva Douglas’ hit-and-run death and still smelled of alcohol hours later
Arrest affidavits quote witnesses as saying Philip Varsam drank steadily in the hours before Alkiva Douglas’ hit-and-run death and still smelled of alcohol hours later

A Fort Lauderdale police detective says she smelled alcohol on Philip Varsam on New Year’s Night. A police report says the friend riding shotgun in Varsam’s car admits the two of them drank alcoholic beverages for just over eight hours.

Then, there’s what police say they learned from a Marathon gas station in Boca Raton.

But, so far, no alcohol-related charges have been filed against Varsam in the Jan. 1 hit-and-run death of 19-year-old Alkiva Douglas. Varsam has pleaded not guilty to the charges he faces: leaving the scene of an accident with injury and leaving the scene of an accident involving death. He remains in Broward County jail on $100,000 bond.

Conviction on the latter charge carries a minimum of four years, which is the same minimum as a DUI manslaughter charge. But as a 2015 Herald story notes, the average sentence for a DUI manslaughter conviction in Florida and in Broward County over the previous three years was just under 10 years. Because the case hasn’t been filed yet, more charges could be added. Prosecutor Ross Weiner, through Broward State Attorney’s office spokesman Ron Ishoy, declined to comment on the case.

Meanwhile, Douglas’ family has set up a gofundme page to cover the costs of an unexpected funeral.

While Douglas cycled on the right side of the southbound Powerline Road lanes at 8:41 p.m. New Year’s Day, a car struck him from behind in the 6700 block. Douglas died Tuesday evening.

In an arrest affidavit for Varsam, Fort Lauderdale traffic homicide investigator Jill Hirsch writes she smelled “a strong odor of alcohol emitting from his person” when speaking with Varsam later that night at his Delray Beach apartment. It also claims Varsam admitted to hitting something on Powerline Road and not stopping, to being the driver of his car at that time, and to drinking at a party before the crash.

They met up at approxmiately noon earlier that day. They went to three different establishments, drinking alcohol at all three. They were drinking alcohol from a little after noon until just before the crash occurred at 8:41 p.m.

Fort Lauderdale police traffic homcide detective Jill Hirsch in an arrest affidavit, on what Philip Varsam’s passenger told her

Hirsch writes in the second arrest affidavit for Varsam that his passenger told her their drinking commenced just after noon on New Year’s Day, continued through three establishments and didn’t end until just before the 8:41 p.m. crash.

Fort Lauderdale police said they got pointed in Varsam’s direction by a crash witness who followed the car and returned to investigators at the crash site with a license plate number. The second arrest affidavit tells of a similarly helpful citizen who called Boca Raton police after a stopping at a Marathon station on Glades Road.

That witness said a drunk driver could be seen behind a smashed-front windshield. The person slumped over in the passenger seat “didn’t appear to be OK” to the witness, according to affidavit No. 2 . The witness followed the car to the entrance of the Spanish Wells apartment complex, where Varsam lives, getting a car description and tag number.

When Hirsch swung by that Marathon, she saw a surveillance video she says shows a smashed windshield on Varsam’s car as he pulls into the parking lot. According to Hirsch, the clerk taking care of Varsam’s cigarette purchase sees blood on him and asks what happened. He replies he doesn’t know.

“Are you drunk?” asks the clerk.

Hirsch says Varsam smiles and points to her as if affirming her suspicion.

David J. Neal: 305-376-3559, @DavidJNeal