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Why is driver accused of hitting Matlacha diners not arrested? Attorney explains

"It's not unusual for there to be some time for these investigations to take place, because it's a serious case, and there are some complex issues here," said attorney Spencer Cordell.
Posted at 2:13 PM, Apr 15, 2024

MATLACHA, Fla. — One of the biggest questions your Fox 4 Community Correspondents have been hearing since a Cape Coral driver plowed into a crowd of people on Matlacha this past weekend: why is the man not in jail?

As of Monday afternoon, the 24-year-old suspect still hadn't been named. So, Senior Reporter Kaitlin Knapp spoke with a criminal attorney to explain the possibilities.

"It's not unusual for there to be some time for these investigations to take place because it's a serious case and there are some complex issues here," said attorney Spencer Cordell. "It takes time to get a warrant to process a blood draw, it takes time to get a warrant and pull a black box."

On Saturday night, state troopers say the driver was leaving the island when he veered off the road. They say his car hit five people, killing 80-year-old Mary Lou Sharp, as they were all sitting outside "That BBQ Place."

Pine Island community mourns the loss of the islands' "Grandma"
Pine Island community mourns the loss of the islands' "Grandma"

The driver then hit a parked motorcycle and crashed into a pick-up truck driven by Steve Buechner, FHP says.

Cordell says this is common — to have a delay in an arrest in cases like this.

Steve Beuchner Matlacha crash stopped driver
"The police asked me, 'Did you intentionally block the guy?' and I was like, No, I just panicked," said Steve Buechner, the day after a runaway driver hit his pickup truck. "Sure enough, he swerved back into the road and came and hit me so I had several people thank me." The runaway driver had hit 5 people when he plowed into an outdoor seating area on Matlacha April 13.

"If they have reason to believe he might have been under the influence, they’re going to want to investigate that," he explained. "If there’s a concern he may have been driving recklessly, they’ll want to investigate that."

Cordell says for law enforcement, it's more important to do it correctly than to do the investigation fast. He advised the driver very well could be under arrest right now, but law enforcement was holding him.

Cordell says even though there were several witnesses who saw the crash, troopers need to make sure a criminal act was committed. To put it another way: it's clear the car hit a crowd of people, but as the law reads, it's the intent behind the act that helps decide whether charges are ultimately filed.

Because Fox 4 is In Your Community every day,the connections we've made with some of you have helped us identify the driver. However, as of Monday afternoon, state troopers still had not responded to requests for confirmation of that identity, other than to say the investigation was active and charges were pending.