Crime

He killed a South Beach defense lawyer in a high-speed crash. Now, he’s going to prison

Naphtali Wacks, a Miami Beach defense lawyer, died of injuries suffered in a car crash on the MacArthur Causeway in May 2017.
Naphtali Wacks, a Miami Beach defense lawyer, died of injuries suffered in a car crash on the MacArthur Causeway in May 2017. Facebook

A Miami man is going to prison for more than 14 years for killing a criminal defense lawyer in a high-speed hit-and-run car crash on the MacArthur Causeway.

Elia Soto, 46, pleaded guilty this week for the 2017 death of lawyer Naphtali Hertz Wacks, who was driving to Miami’s criminal courthouse for work when he was mortally injured in the wreck. Soto pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter and leaving the scene of a fatal accident.

Because of his criminal history, Soto had faced up to 45 years in prison. At the time of the crash, Soto was on federal probation for conspiracy to distribute cocaine.

Soto must also serve five years of probation after he is released from prison.

“We received justice for a man that sought justice every day in the courthouse,” said Miami-Dade Assistant State Attorney Griska Mena. “Naphtali Wacks was a member of our community and we fought for him like he did for his clients.”

Prosecutors said that Soto was driving at nearly 100 mph from South Beach, across the causeway on May 30, 2017, when he clipped Wacks’ car. The lawyer’s car careened out of control and plowed into a retaining wall.

In the wreck, the 57-year-old Wacks suffered broken ribs, a severed spine and collapsed lungs. He died four days later at Jackson Memorial Hospital.

Soto’s rental SUV was found ditched near Miami’s criminal courthouse and he was arrested one day later. Miami Beach police detectives pieced the case together using surveillance footage placing him behind the wheel just before the crash, as well as ditching the SUV minutes afterward.

His DNA was also found on the SUV’s airbag, placing him behind the wheel at the time of the impact.

Wacks, a New York native, was a familiar if quiet figure at the Richard E. Gerstein Justice Building. A graduate of the University of Miami’s law school, Wacks was court-appointed on many cases for defendants who could not afford lawyers, but could not be represented by the public defender’s office.

Miami Police PIO Michael Vega speaks Feb. 24, 2019, after a woman was fatally struck by a car in NW Miami-Dade. Police say the the four people inside the car had been involved in an armed carjacking and armed robbery and were fleeing from police.

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