Jogging lawyer hit by driver who said she was distracted by cell. Yet he’s getting ticketed

Days before a big trial, South Florida lawyer James DeMiles suffered a broken back when a car hit him as he jogged. As he lay on the side of the road in searing pain, he says, the young woman behind the wheel emerged from the car.

“Out of nervousness, she said, ‘I was looking down at my phone. It was the first thing she said,’” DeMiles recalled.

Yet despite a recently passed Florida law that makes texting and driving a primary traffic offense, Hollywood police say DeMiles is the one getting the ticket.

Three days after the accident, the 39-year-old lawyer was back home Monday, facing weeks of bed confinement, and months of having to wear a body cast. And he was miffed that the Hollywood police department said it planned to ticket him, not the young woman who he says veered into the shoulder as he was jogging lawfully.

Hollywood police spokesman Christian Lata told the Miami Herald that the driver told police DeMiles darted out into the road. The spokesman could not cite the traffic law DeMiles broke yet because the responding police officer had not yet finished the traffic report. The name of the driver was also not available until the report was complete.

DeMiles says he never darted out into the road, and was jogging on a shoulder because the area of Hollywood does not have sidewalks. He says the Nike phone app, which uses GPS to track his route, backs up that he was not in the road when hit.

“This is my neighborhood, I was very careful jogging it, as I always am, and I am only catastrophically injured because she was driving too fast in my neighborhood while being distracted by her phone,” DeMiles wrote in an e-mail to the police officer on Monday.

South Florida lawyer James DeMiles was hospitalized on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019, after he was running on the side of a road and hit by a driver in Hollywood. His head hit the driver’s side window. - Courtesy James DeMiles

Texting and driving had illegal for a few years in Florida, but police officer could not pull you over for it. Last year, less than 1,700 tickets were issued for it.

But Florida lawmakers earlier this year passed a bill that allows police officers to pull over and ticket a driver who is texting. The law went into effect in July. The law also banned outright using cell phones in a school zone or active road work zone, a provision that went into effect Oct. 1.

DeMiles, 39, is a former Miami-Dade prosecutor who well known at the Richard E. Gerstein Justice Building. Now a private attorney, he represents Omar Rodriguez, the Kendall neighbor accused of murdering a man after an argument about dog poop.

In civil court, he also represents former Miss Hialeah Vanessa Barcelo, who is suing police over what she says was a wrongful arrest for defending herself, and Deandre Charles, who is suing over what he says was his wrongful arrest for the high-profile murder of a rabbi in North Miami-Dade.

This week, DeMiles was supposed to start a federal trial over a flood claim related to Hurricane Irma in 2017. It’s been delayed because of the crash.

The crash happened Friday about 9 a.m. on Johnson Street, just west of 24th Avenue, a residential zone. DeMiles felt the back of his knees buckle as he was listening to Wagon Wheel, by the country singer Darrius Rucker.

Everything went into slow-motion, like an action movie. DeMiles contorted and twisted and jack-knifed in the air. His head slammed into the windshield. “Thank God, you’re not dead!” the woman said when she got out.

“I tried to move a little but but the pain was so bad,” DeMiles recalled. “I couldn’t even sit up. I said, ‘Oh my God, I think I broke my back.’”

He was rushed to Hollywood’s Memorial Regional Hospital, where doctors told him he was lucky he was not paralyzed. They called him the “Miracle Man.”

His spine was fractured in the two spots in his lower spine. He also has two other herniated discs in his spine.

David Ovalle covers crime and courts in Miami. A native of San Diego, he graduated from the University of Southern California and joined the Herald in 2002 as a sports reporter.