MIAMI – A jury was asked Monday to decide whether a former Miami Beach police officer committed crimes or simply used bad judgment when he took a woman celebrating her bachelorette party joy-riding on his police all-terrain vehicle, a jaunt that ended when he struck and seriously injured two people walking on the beach.
Eileen Keeley, a Miami-Dade County assistant state attorney, said as 33-year-old Derick Kuilan's trial on four felonies began that the officer had been drinking while on duty early July 3, 2011 before he offered the ATV ride to Adalee Martin Jones of Harrisburg, Pa. She was the bride-to-be at the party at a South Beach nightclub.
Kuilan and his partner also posed for a photo with the women, some of whom told investigators later they initially thought the officers might be strippers or just part of their entertainment.
Keeley told jurors that Kuilan tore down the beach at a high rate of speed with lights off before crashing into Kitzie Nicanor and Luis Almonte, who had gone to the ocean's edge to watch the sunrise. Almonte suffered a broken leg and Nicanor had serious head and other injuries. Five hours after the crash, a blood test showed Kuilan's alcohol level just above Florida's 0.08 legal limit.
"His judgment was gone. His common sense was impaired. His actions that night shattered the lives of Luis Almonte and Kitzie Nicanor," Keeley told jurors in her opening statement.
Kuilan's attorney, Evan Hoffman, said there was no question the officer made mistakes that night. But Hoffman noted that Kuilan is being sued by the accident victims as well as Jones and that a civil lawsuit is the proper way to resolve the case.
"At most, this is a negligence case, and not a criminal one," Hoffman said.
Kuilan is charged with two counts of driving under the influence with serious bodily injury and two counts of reckless driving with bodily injury. Each felony charge carries a potential five-year prison sentence.
The first prosecution witness Monday was Jones, who said she did not think Kuilan was drunk or otherwise impaired when she decided to accept the ATV ride. She said she did not see him drinking at The Clevelander, the hotel and nightspot where the women were partying.
"I thought it would be fun. I trusted him because he was a police officer. I felt safe," Jones testified.
Jones said Kuilan occasionally flicked the ATV's lights on and off as he sped down Miami Beach, turning at its southernmost point and then ramming into Nicanor and Almonte. Jones said she flew off the ATV and it rolled over her. She suffered a back and other minor injuries.
"We were going pretty fast. That's when I felt like we hit a brick wall," she said. Asked to describe the aftermath, she added: "Chaos. Panic. People screaming and crying."
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