Broward County

DUI charge passes the smell test after a deadly hit-and-run

Philip Varsam now faces a charge of DUI manslaughter in the hit-and-run death of Fort Lauderdale’s Alkiva Douglas.
Philip Varsam now faces a charge of DUI manslaughter in the hit-and-run death of Fort Lauderdale’s Alkiva Douglas.

Police measured no breath or blood from Philip Varsam after the New Year’s Day hit-and-run that killed Fort Lauderdale teenager Alkiva Douglas. But, based on alleged sights and smells, Broward County prosecutors have decided if it looks like DUI and smells like DUI, Varsam should face DUI charges.

Varsam is now charged with one count of DUI manslaughter and two counts of DUI with property damage to go with the pending charges, leaving the scene of an accident involving death and leaving the scene of an accident with property damage. The 28-year-old Long Island native remains in Broward County Jail, now without bond.

A DUI manslaughter conviction carries a minimum sentence of four years, the same as leaving an accident scene involving death. The average sentence for a DUI manslaughter conviction in Florida and in Broward County from 2012-15 was just under 10 years.

According to one of the complaint affidavits, nearly three and a half hours elapsed between a car striking Douglas as he road his bicycle on South Powerline Road in Fort Lauderdale and police meeting Varsam at his Delray Beach home. That prevented a draw of blood for evidence. Still, Fort Lauderdale police traffic homicide investigator Jill Hirsch wrote, olfactory evidence remained.

“While speaking with suspect Varsam, I noticed a strong odor of alcohol emitting from his person,” Hirsch wrote.

Also, Hirsch added on a later complaint affidavit, Varsam’s speech was “very slow and had trouble answering questions. He also kept repeating himself.”

Defendant Philip Varsam stated, “Yeah, that was me.” He advised he hit something but he didn’t know what it was. He left the scene.

Fort Lauderdale traffic homicide detective Jill Hirsch’s account of Varsam’s answer when she told him his car had been identified as the one in the hit-and-run.

Hirsch wrote that Varsam’s daylong hangout partner on New Year’s Day admitted they had been drinking from just after noon until just before the 8:41 p.m. crash.

A complaint affidavit says bartenders at Boca Raton’s Tap42 recall Varsam “drank at least two Tito Mules (vodka, ginger beer, lime juice) and four shots of alcohol.”

A surveillance video from a Marathon gas station after the crash shows Varsam admitting his inebriation to a clerk after pulling into the station with a smashed windshield, police said. According to court documents, a witness who followed Varsam from the Boca Raton gas station described his driving as “wobbling.”

Also in the court file: receipts from Diamond Dolls’ strip club in Pompano Beach. Surveillance video shows Varsam drinking there with his passenger and “appearing extremely intoxicated at the time” he got behind the wheel of his 2015 white Lexus sedan.

The crash happened shortly afterward.

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