By CURT ANDERSON
AP Legal Affairs Writer
MIAMI (AP) — A former Miami Beach police officer was convicted Monday of reckless driving but acquitted of driving under the influence for a 2011 crash in which he struck and seriously injured two people strolling on the beach while joy-riding with a woman on a police all-terrain vehicle.
The six-person jury reached the verdict in the trial of Derick Kulian after deliberating just over two hours. Kulian, 33, was convicted of reckless driving with serious bodily injury, a felony punishable by up to five years in prison, as well as misdemeanor reckless driving.
Trial evidence showed that Kuilan, while on duty and in uniform, had a blood-alcohol level above Florida’s 0.08 legal limit to drive when he took a woman at a South Beach nightclub bachelorette party out on the high-speed beach ATV ride. But the defense also showed there was a second blood test that put Kulian’s alcohol level below the limit, some five hours after the crash.
“He was not guilty of DUI, and that’s what we’ve said all along,” said Kuilan’s attorney, Evan Hoffman.
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Marisa Tinkler Mendez will sentence Kuilan at a later date. Kuilan, who had been free on bail, was taken into custody following the verdict.
Assistant State Attorney David Gilbert told jurors during closing arguments that the two alcohol blood test results — both of which would surely have been higher if Kuilan’s blood had been drawn earlier — coupled with the officer’s decision to take the ATV out on a pitch black beach was clear evidence of recklessness, not just poor judgment as Kuilan’s attorney contended.
“Without his headlights on, he might as well have had a blindfold on,” Gilbert said. “Can you get more reckless than that? He was both impaired and reckless on the night of the incident.”
Victims Kitzie Nicanor and Luis Almonte both testified, saying they had gone to ocean’s edge to watch the sunrise when the ATV slammed into them without warning. Almonte suffered a shattered leg and Nicanor had numerous injuries, including a brain injury she said has left her unable to work. Her spleen was removed, leaving a large scar.
Some of the women at the bachelorette party testified they initially thought Kuilan and his then-partner may have been part of the club’s entertainment, perhaps even male strippers. They got the officers to pose for a party cellphone photo that was published around the world after Kuilan was charged by prosecutors.
Hoffman noted that Kuilan is also being sued in civil court by the victims, who seek money damages for negligence. Hoffman said that was the proper way to resolve the case, rather than felony criminal convictions.
No one testified that Kuilan was seen drinking alcohol, Hoffman said, and no hard evidence that he was speeding on the ATV or driving it erratically.
“This case is riddled with reasonable doubt, ladies and gentlemen,” Hoffman told the jury. “”This is a reckless driving case where there was no reckless driving.”
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