Opa-locka has quietly fired a police officer for the car chase that ended when a motorist sped the wrong way onto Interstate 95, causing a wreck that killed four tourists from California.
According to newly released personnel documents, Opa-locka Cpl. Sergio Perez was terminated for “pursuing a vehicle the wrong way on the highway” just before the crash, and the officer “accepted responsibility” for violating department procedures.
Judges recently ordered Perez’s personnel file released to attorneys in several legal cases stemming from the horrific April 13, 2013, crash.
The firing provides a boost for the lawsuits filed by relatives of the dead.
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“This validates an underlying basis of our wrongful death claims against Officer Perez as well as the City of Opa-locka,” said lawyer Edward Blumberg, who represents the family of two victims.
Perez’s termination may also aid in the defense of motorist Willie Dumel, the convicted felon who was being chased and plowed into the tourists. He is awaiting trial on four counts of manslaughter.
“We’ve always believed that the pursuit by the officer — in direct contradiction of police policies — was a contributing cause for the accident,” Dumel’s defense attorney, Andrew Rier, said on Monday.
But Perez, who was hired by Opa-locka in March 2008, is appealing the firing and is awaiting another arbitration hearing.
“Our general position is that there may have been some technical violations of the chase policy, but there is nothing Sergio did that should have been cause to terminate,” said his attorney, Jim Casey.
The department’s pursuit policy prohibits officers from continuing a chase that goes against the flow of traffic. The department allows for pursuits only in the cases of serious felonies.
The night of the crash, Perez saw Dumel making an apparent illegal right turn at Northwest 143rd Street and 22nd Avenue. According to state troopers, Dumel led him on a high-speed chase, eventually zooming up the wrong way on the interstate exit ramp at Ives Dairy Road.
Perez later told his superiors that he broke off the pursuit. Audio from police radio transmissions appeared to contradict the claim.
“This guy is all over the road,” Perez told dispatchers, his siren audible in the background. “Now he’s going against traffic on I-95. We’re going northbound in the southbound lanes.”
Dumel’s car plowed into a rental SUV driving south. Killed were Lily-Marie Azarcon, 26, who worked for a Philippines-based real estate developer; her colleague Dennis Ryan Riñon Ortiz, 33; U.S. Navy petty officer 2nd class Albertson Anthony Almase, 31, and his sister, Kristina Angela Almase, 26, a nurse.
The two women were single mothers.
The Almase family has since filed wrongful death suits against Dumel, Opa-locka, Perez and the owner of Dumel’s SUV. Relatives of the other two victims have also sued.
Dumel later tested positive for cocaine and marijuana. He was not charged with DUI manslaughter, however, because of the difficulty in determining whether he was actually under the influence at the time of the crash.
He remains jailed. At the time of the crash, Dumel was on probation for aggravated assault and stalking.
Perez has had a troubled career in law enforcement. He was fired from the Miami Shores Police Department, kicked out of the police academy and, as a recruit, arrested after causing a nasty crash while drag-racing off duty.
Dumel’s defense lawyers had been fighting for weeks to obtain Perez’s latest personnel documents. The city initially wanted to charge them $1,600 for copies. The lawyers and prosecutors — who also do not have the documents — are expected to review the file in person at the Opa-locka police station on Thursday.
Lawyers in the criminal case are hoping to interview Perez as part of a deposition in the coming weeks.
Reached on Monday, Perez wouldn’t comment about specifics, but he disputed the findings of Opa-locka’s internal affairs investigation.
“There’s a lot of lies in the IA file,” Perez said.