Miami-Dade prosecutors have charged an Aventura man with DUI manslaughter after concluding he was high on nitrous oxide, also known as “whippets,” when he ran over a family on a sidewalk, killing a real-estate lawyer.
Joseph Franco, 27, was jailed Wednesday afternoon, accused of killing Amir Pelleg in July 2018 and injuring his wife and two young daughters. Pelleg, 34, was an attorney with Kayne Anderson Real Estate, and an active member of the Beth Torah Synagogue.
Investigators believe Franco inhaled nitrous oxide shortly before veering his Honda Odyssey off Collins Avenue near 174th Street. After hitting the family, witnesses told police, Franco got out of the car while seeming like he was talking to someone on his phone, then dumped a duffel bag in a nearby garbage can.
Police found 12 used canisters of nitrous oxide, and nine more unused ones inside the bag. Franco was initially charged with tampering with evidence and distribution of nitrous oxide. The cans were labeled “XXX Platinum Triple Refined Cream Chargers,” an adult-themed product ostensibly used to make whipped cream. “Ready for slathering,” according to the packaging of one box being sold online.
The canisters had been purchased at a North Miami-Dade smoke shop the previous day, according to evidence in the case. Investigators believe the product is used mostly for inhaling the gas, which gives users a euphoric jolt.
Prosecutors charged Franco after sending some of the canisters to a specialized forensic lab in Texas, which confirmed they contained illegal amounts of nitrous oxide. His car’s black box showed he did not brake or even steer before he crashed.
Franco had been on house arrest awaiting trial on the tampering charge before surrendering Wednesday to face the enhanced charges.
His attorney declined to comment on the new charges that include DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide.