MIAMI (WSVN) - A South Florida driver is facing some serious charges after, authorities said, he struck an on-duty Florida Highway Patrol trooper in Hialeah while inebriated, early Sunday morning.
According to FHP, the incident happened just after 1 a.m., as the trooper investigated a two-car crash on the southbound Palmetto Expressway exit ramp to Okeechobee Road.
“In the process of handling the traffic crash investigation and interviewing the drivers involved, another vehicle was traveling northbound on Okeechobee Road,” said FHP Maj. Chris Dellapietra.
“[The trooper] was out there, and all of a sudden, this car that was traveling northbound just crashed into both vehicles, and the impact forced one of the vehicles to strike him,” said FHP Trooper Joe Sanchez.
Officials said the trooper, identified as Daniel Cruz, was critically injured. He was airlifted to Jackson Memorial Hospital’s Ryder Trauma Center, where he is currently listed in stable condition.
7News spoke with Cruz’s parents as they left the hospital. “We are thankful. We are thankful that he’s alive,” said Beatriz Cruz, his mother.
His father, Ronnie Cruz, gave further details about his son’s injuries. “Your kneecap is like this, and what happened, with the crash, it jumped off,” he said.
The driver, 26-year-old John Bencosme, was taken into custody after officials determined that the crash was alcohol-related. “This driver was impaired, and he was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol,” said Sanchez.
FHP spent hours investigating the crash.
Sanchez said the incident serves as an important reminder to motorists about drinking responsibly during the holiday season.
“I can’t fathom why people would get behind a wheel and drive drunk,” he said. “We really don’t care who you call. You can call your mother-in-law, your ex-wife. Call whoever you can to make sure that you do not get behind the wheel of that vehicle and go out there and destroy somebody’s life or even destroy your own.”
Several of Cruz’s fellow troopers came to the hospital throughout the day, Sunday.
Ronnie said his son, who is married and has a 4-month-old child, is alert and talking and faces a very long road ahead of him. “They were able to put [the kneecap] in. Now they’re going to see the extent of the [damage to the] ligaments and nerve system and stuff like that,” he said.
But Cruz’s parents are just glad he will be able to go home eventually, and they’re grateful for all of his colleagues who came by to show their support. “You know, he’s not alone. He has not only us, but he has a family of people,” said Ronnie. “It’s very positive for us to know that there are people out there that do love us, and not because they’re going to get something out of it but because they have a genuine heart to help.”
Officials said it could take at least six months for Cruz to return to work.
Bencosme faces multiple charges, including driving under the influence resulting in serious bodily injury. He has since bonded out of jail.
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