(As originally published with additional photos, Mon, February 12th 2024)
LADY LAKE, Fla. (TND) — Investigators have a harder time getting reliable leads when crimes happen at night, but a police officer in Florida got lucky when a witness pointed out a trail of evidence, literally.
It didn’t happen right away.
The officer was investigating a hit-and-run that left the driver of a Volkswagen with a compound fracture last Saturday night, Feb. 3.
The officer wrote about two witnesses with similar stories.
They told him “they were traveling north on U.S. Highway 27 behind a gray Chevy or Ford truck pulling a trailer with construction materials.”
They also said “the truck then turned left to travel west on Lady Lake Boulevard, pulling out directly in front of a white Volkswagen, causing the front of the Volkswagen to collide with the side of the trailer being pulled by the truck.
“The witnesses stated the truck then fled down West Lady Lake Boulevard at an extremely high rate of speed ultimately where the witnesses lost sight of the truck.”
Luckily for the investigation, “An unidentified witness arrived and stated he was walking and heard the collision and said the vehicle was a dark blue Chevy truck. The witness stated the damage to the trailer caused the trailer to make grooves in the road as the Chevy truck fled.”
That was the clue the officer needed.
“Several officers then began to canvas the area and followed the groove marks,” the arrest report said.
One of the officers found “the trailer parked in the rear of the residence with severe damage to the side, consistent with the crash.
“As I approached the trailer, I observed the right side of the trailer to have been struck with white transfer paint present, as well as the tire and axle being broken.
“The trailer’s wheel well was damaged and was dragging the ground which was consistent with the grooves in the roadway.”
Then, the registered owner of the trailer “stated his friend Jose Garcia-Perez just dropped the trailer off and was using it for work.”
So, they paid a visit to Garcia-Perez’s home, where they reported a bit of a run-around.
They saw the Chevy pickup truck out back, “concealed from seeing it from the roadway.”
A woman with Guatemalan ID told them “she did not know anything, and some guy just dropped the truck off and ran.”
But the arrest report said she let officers inside, where two people “asked if we were at the residence for the wreck but would not provide any other information.”
When they questioned the woman again, “Her son said he was scared and stated his father, Jose Garcia-Perez, was driving the truck and stated he told them when he got home, he was in a wreck and proceeded to flee the residence on foot.
“[The woman] began to tell her juvenile son to shut up and continued to state she does not know anyone driving the truck.
“[The woman] was advised if she continued to obstruct the investigation she would be arrested.
“[The woman] still withheld and gave misleading information, at which point she was detained.
“[The woman] then became cooperative, as well as the other adults in the residence.
“[The woman] made contact with a family member who stated Jose was going to return to the residence to turn himself into law enforcement.”
Her name is not listed among people booked into the Lake County Jail.
Then, shortly after midnight, “Jose was observed walking up the street. Jose was immediately placed in handcuffs.
“While I was searching Jose, I could smell the distinct odor of an alcoholic beverage emitting from his person. Jose’s eyes were bloodshot and glassy. Jose was unsteady at his feet, consistent with being under the influence.
“Jose provided me with a Guatemala identification card and stated he did not have a driver license.”
Also, there was also no record of him ever having a license, and “Jose could not provide proof of citizenship or entry into the United States.”
Garcia-Perez, 30, was charged with hit-and-run at a crash with serious bodily injury and driving while never having a driver’s license.
Almost five years ago, he was arrested for driving without a valid license. In that criminal case, he ended up serving six months of probation.
This time, he’s facing a felony, his bail was set at $30,000, and he has not been released from jail.