Prostitute's testimony helps convict Florida driver in DUI hit-and-run

A terrified prostitute became the star witness in a trial that put a man behind bars for 20 years after he was convicted of running a red light and hitting a young father on a scooter.

Prosecutors said Robert Velazco was drunk and high on cocaine when he flew through a red light in West Miami in June 2014, striking Alex Rodas, 34, who was crossing the intersection.

Velazco drove off without a second thought, the Miami Herald reported, and the incident was captured on a red light security camera.


Shows the vehicle Robert Velazco was driving moments before hitting Alex Rodas, 34, on the scooter.  (Miami-Dade Police via Miami Herald)

Riding shotgun with Velazco was Leticia Suri, whom he had picked up minutes earlier for a night of fun.

Suri bolted from the vehicle as soon it stopped and quickly ran to a Miami-Dade cop, who she directed to Velazco’s home.

“She was a very unlikely state’s witness,” Sally Matson, a victim’s advocate for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, told the Herald. “She risked harm and consequences. Without her, justice would never have been possible.”

A jury convicted Velazco in November of driving under the influence and leaving the scene of an accident involving serious bodily injury. On Tuesday, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

It was Suri’s testimony that helped put Velazco behind bars -- though Velazco tried to claim it was actually Suri behind the wheel. However, independent witnesses said a man was behind the wheel of the truck when it struck Rodas, the Herald reported.

The June 2014 incident was not Velazco’s first run-in with law enforcement, and he had racked up more than 20 convictions before his arrest. One such conviction came from another state, in which he pleaded guilty to sexually abusing a minor, Miami-Dade prosecutor Desiree Staeffer said in court.

“The victim was 15 years of age,” she said. “Not only did the defendant almost kill someone, he also raped someone.”

Other convictions include 11 for cocaine possession and others for burglary and grand-theft auto.

Rodas told the Herald he suffered extensive injuries, including brain trauma and broken bones. He said he can no longer work because of his injuries.

“This tragedy – my whole life has been destroyed,” he said.

Lucia I. Suarez Sang is a Reporter for Follow her on Twitter @luciasuarezsang