Almost seven years after a traffic accident killed a fourth grader, the driver who caused the crash was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Why did the case take so long to weave through the court system, and will the punishment set a new precedent?

A Tragic Accident

On Sept. 15, 2016, the Scherer family was traveling on Interstate 75 near Brooksville, Florida, when they encountered a traffic jam and came to a stop. The family of four included Brooke and Jordan Scherer and their children, Logan and Mallory.

At the same time, Gregory Andriotis was on Interstate 75 approaching the family’s SUV. Andriotis was not paying attention to the road and didn’t notice the sudden stop in traffic, according to Tampa Bay Times reporting. His car slammed into the back of the Scherer’s SUV.

Three of the family members were seriously injured, and 9-year-old Logan was killed by the impact.

Related: Injured in a Car Accident? Here’s What You Need to Do Right Away.

Family Pushes for More Accountability

While the three surviving family members recovered from their injuries, Andriotis was given his punishment for causing the accident that left three family members in the hospital and one dead.

Andriotis was given a fine and one-year license suspension.

The Scherers were not satisfied. They began pushing prosecutors to file stiffer criminal charges, and they launched a nonprofit, Living for Logan, to lobby legislators to pass tougher laws governing cell phone use while behind the wheel. The family’s work took time but led to a change in the prosecutor’s approach to the case.

In March 2018, almost two years after the accident, Andriotis was arrested on a vehicular homicide charge and three counts of reckless driving resulting in serious injury.

Related: Injured in a Car Accident? Here’s What You Need to Do Right Away.

The Case Against the Driver

Andriotis was criminally charged, and the case would eventually go to trial almost seven years after the accident. During the trial, a jury heard evidence about Andriotis’ phone usage in the time leading up to the crash.

An expert analysis of Andriotis’ phone usage 30 minutes before the crash showed a high level of activity. Andriotis had searched for and downloaded the Excel application. While he was driving 80 mph, he used his phone apps. He would later say the last thing he did before the accident was open the Excel app.

Other evidence presented at trial showed that Andriotis didn’t break or try to swerve to avoid the accident. The car’s computer indicated that the vehicle accelerated before the crash. Witnesses said they saw no brake lights before the impact.

The jury found Andriotis guilty of vehicular homicide and three counts of reckless driving resulting in serious injury. Assistant State Attorney Lori Ellingsworth asked the judge for the maximum sentence for the charges, and he got it.

The judge sentenced Andriotis to 30 years in prison — fifteen years for Logan’s death and another five years for each of the reckless driving charges.

Related: Should Bayshore Driver Get a Sentence Reduction After Deadly Crash?

Vehicular Homicide & Distracted Driving

Vehicular homicide is defined in Florida Statute Section 782.071 as “the killing of a human being, or the killing of an unborn child by any injury to the mother, caused by the operation of a motor vehicle by another in a reckless manner likely to cause the death of, or great bodily harm to, another.”

In Florida, it is against the law to type into a phone while driving. The law, known as the “Florida Ban on Texting While Driving Law,” is defined in Florida Statute 316.305. It says, “A person may not operate a motor vehicle while manually typing or entering multiple letters, numbers, symbols, or other characters into a wireless communications device or while sending or reading data on such a device for the purpose of nonvoice interpersonal communication, including, but not limited to, communication methods known as texting, e-mailing, and instant messaging.” The statute also gives permission to law enforcement to review the wireless data of a driver if they are involved in a crash resulting in death or personal injury.

The Scherers’ case is one of the first prosecuted involving a fatality under Florida’s texting and driving laws. The outcome may set precedent for future cases involving deaths that are a result of distracted driving through the use of mobile devices.

While Andriotis has been found guilty in criminal court, he could still face consequences in civil court. Cases of vehicular manslaughter can also lead to civil personal injury or wrongful death lawsuits.

Related: What To Do After a Car Accident That’s Not Your Fault 

Protect Yourself and Your Loved Ones

Around two million car accidents happen per year. If you or a loved one are involved in a car accident, make sure you speak to an attorney right away. Protect your rights and get justice if you are injured due to the negligence of another party. Talk to a personal injury attorney who can guide you through the legal process and lead to the best possible outcome.

Start your free case review today. Contact attorney TJ Grimaldi to discuss the details of a recent accident. Request an appointment or call 813-226-1023.

In a story that captivated the country, five men went missing after their touring submersible sank into the ocean on its way to view the wreckage of the Titanic. After a massive search, rescuers confirmed that the vessel had imploded and killed all of the men on board.

Now, allegations that the submersible wasn’t safe are surfacing. Do these allegations mean lawsuits could be coming? Who could be charged?

What Happened To the Titan?

On June 18, 2023, five men boarded the Titan submersible run by OceanGate Expeditions. Their mission was to travel 12,500 feet below the surface to view the wreckage of the Titanic.

Just two hours into the dive, the Titan lost communication with its control ship. Hours later, a massive search began looking for the 22-foot-long vessel. For four days, international ships, surveillance aircrafts, and undersea drones searched for the Titan. Finally, the vessel was found. Debris from the sub was found on the seafloor around the Titanic wreckage.

The remains of the sub indicated that Titan had imploded at some point in its descent. All five passengers were pronounced dead.

Passengers Signed Waivers Before the Trip

The five men aboard the Titan presumably knew there were risks involved with their journey. When they signed up for the trip, each paid as much as $250,000 and signed a lengthy liability waiver.

While details of the exact waiver signed by the men haven’t been made public, a passenger who made the trip with OceanGate Expeditions in July 2022 shared details about the waiver he signed before his trip.

Mike Reiss said the waiver mentioned the possibility of death three times on the first page alone. “You sign a massive waiver that lists one way after another that you could die on the trip,” Mike Reiss told the BBC.

Does this mean lawsuits can’t be filed in the case? Not exactly.

Is There a Case for Wrongful Death?

In cases where the negligence of a person or a company leads to the death of a person, there is an option to sue for wrongful death. Survivors can seek financial compensation for losses and damages experienced as a result of the death.

Wrongful death lawsuits are typically dictated by the rules and guidelines in state statutes. In Florida, wrongful death lawsuits are dictated by Florida Statute 768.21. In the case of the Titan, the accident happened in international waters, so it is not clear which jurisdiction would manage a potential case.

In most wrongful death cases, plaintiffs must typically prove two things.

  1. The death was a result of the negligence or maliciousness of an at-fault party.
  2. The death led to financial and/or emotional damages for surviving members of the deceased.

In an effort to avoid potential wrongful death lawsuits, companies or individuals seek protection through the use of liability waivers, as was the case with the Titan voyage. It appears that all passengers signed liability waivers.

But waivers don’t always offer unlimited protection against wrongful death lawsuits.

Related: How Do You Sue for Wrongful Death?

What Potential Lawsuits Could Arise?

The families of the men who died in the Titan could possibly sue for wrongful death if there is evidence of gross negligence or hazards that were not fully disclosed to the passengers.

Since the Titan went missing, allegations that the submersible wasn’t safe are coming to light.

In 2018, a former employee of OceanGate warned company leaders that the sub’s safety could be compromised, according to Insider.

In a lawsuit, the employee said he was worried about poor “quality control and safety” protocols that “​​paying passengers would not be aware of.”

If there were dangerous aspects of the construction of the vessel that were kept from the passengers, it could potentially open the door to litigation against OceanGate.

OceanGate is not the only company that could face potential litigation. The companies that designed, built, or made parts for the Titan could also face potential lawsuits if they are found to be negligent or the cause of the implosion.

Many details of the case are still being investigated, and as more details come to light, we will see if lawsuits will also follow.

Related: Examples of Wrongful Death Cases Worth Fighting For

Seek Justice If Injured by Negligence

If you or a loved one have been injured due to the negligence of another individual or company, you deserve to be made whole. To hold a negligent party accountable, talk to a personal injury attorney or a wrongful death attorney right away. Discuss the details of your situation to find out if you have a case to seek damages and justice.

Discuss your case with attorney TJ Grimaldi. All consultations are free so share your story today. Schedule your free consultation or call 813-226-1023 now.

It was supposed to be a typical workday for Nguyet Le, the acting manager of an Arby’s in Louisiana. But the day would end in tragedy after Le found herself stuck in the restaurant’s walk-in cooler. Le was unable to escape and ultimately died from exposure.

Now her family is seeking justice? Who are they suing, and what damages do they seek?

What Led to a Woman’s Death in an Arby’s?

Nguyet Le, 63, lived and worked in Houston, Texas, where she was a general manager at an Arby’s. Four weeks before her death, her work brought her to New Iberia, Louisiana. The franchise’s corporate office asked Le if she’d assist at an Arby’s in New Iberia for a few weeks.

On May 11, Le was working as the acting manager of the restaurant. She was close to the end of her assignment and was supposed to soon return to her role at the Houston location, but then tragedy struck.

Le was alone in the restaurant and went into the walk-in cooler. The door shut and locked her inside. Company policy keeps the walk-in cooler set at -10 degrees. Police reports say Le bloodied her hands beating on the door, and preliminary findings from the Iberia Parish Coroner’s Office say she died of hypothermia, as reported by FOX59.

Related: Steps to Take After a Workplace Accident

Who Is the Family Suing?

Le’s family hired Paul Skrabanek, an attorney based in Houston, and they have filed suit against three companies associated with Arby’s.

According to CBS News reporting, the New Iberia Arby’s location is not owned by Arby’s corporate. It is operated by Turbo Restaurants, a part of a franchise management company Sun Holdings. The family is suing Turbo Restaurants, Sun Holdings, and Inspire Brands, the parent company of Arby’s.

The family says gross negligence led to Le’s death.

Related: How Do You Sue for Wrongful Death? 

Why Does the Family Say Arby’s and Others Are At Fault?

The lawsuit alleges that it was known that the cooler latch was not working properly and it was ignored by management. A former employee said the latch had been broken since August 2022. The lawsuit also alleges that someone from the corporate office had been in the restaurant between the time the latch broke and Le’s death and saw the broken latch.

The former employee also said employees were using a screwdriver to help open and close the latch to the cooler and that they were often using a container of oil to prop open the door to prevent it from closing.

The family says the corporations are liable for Le’s death, and they are seeking over $1,000,000 in damages. The lawsuits say they cannot reliably state a maximum amount of damages at this time since they are in the discovery phase of the lawsuit.

Related: Examples of Wrongful Death Cases Worth Fighting For

Does the Family Have a Case?

The family’s lawsuit was filed in Harris County, Texas, and will abide by Texas law. It references both wrongful death and worker’s compensation laws in Texas.

The family will likely have to prove two things to win their case.

1. The family must prove the companies’ negligence or maliciousness led to Le’s death. The lawsuit lists the reasons why they believe the companies are at fault. It says they:

  • Failed to have the freezer at the subject location repaired
  • Failed to properly supervise its franchise location
  • Failed to provide proper training regarding the franchise location
  • Had knowledge of the broken freezer at the subject location but failed to take any action to remedy that problem

2. The family must prove the incident led to physical, emotional, or financial damages. The lawsuit lists the losses for the family as:

  • Loss of consortium
  • Past and future mental anguish
  • Conscious pain and suffering
  • Loss of support
  • Loss of love and affection

The family is seeking a jury trial and will have to make their case for seeking justice for Le.

Related: How to Prove Fault in Personal Injury Case

Get Justice for Yourself or a Loved One

If you or a loved one have been harmed by the negligence of another person or company, you deserve justice. Contact a personal injury attorney or wrongful death attorney as soon as possible to discuss the details of your case.

Get the justice you deserve. Schedule a call with TJ Grimaldi to review your case and see how our team can help you get what is owed to you. Contact our office or call 813-226-1023.

When Hollywood couples divorce, they have to deal with both the public portrayal of their split and the legal implications of their breakup.

Let’s look at what considerations are most important during a divorce and the three stars dealing with breakups in the legal system and the public eye.

Breaking Down The Divorce Process

When a couple divorces, whether famous or not, they have to deal with the same considerations as everyone else. Hollywood couples may have higher stakes when it comes to the financial implications of their divorce, but they have to go through the same legal process.

  1. One or both parties file a petition for Dissolution of Marriage.
  2. If it is a contested divorce, the other party must file an answer within 20 days.
  3. If there is a prenuptial agreement, the document outlines many of the details of the divorce.
  4. Both parties may be required to fill out additional paperwork and affidavits related to details of the divorce.
  5. Both parties may work together through mediation to come to an agreement.
  6. If no agreement is made, a trial may take place.
  7. A final judgment is made, and the divorce is finalized.

Depending on the complexity of the divorce, the process can happen quickly or take years to finalize as the couple works through the details of the divorce.

Related: How to File for Divorce in Florida

The Top Divorce Considerations

During a divorce, a couple has to work through a variety of details related to how they will split up their finances and property, manage their children, and move forward as separate entities.

The details that must be defined during a divorce include: 

  • Assets and Liabilities: The couple must audit their assets and liabilities and determine who is responsible and has ownership over major items.
  • Child Custody: If a couple has children under the age of 18, they must set guidelines for child custody and who has legal and physical custody.
  • Child Support: When children are involved, details of the divorce may also include the amount of money that one spouse must pay another to take care of the children.
  • Spousal Support: If one spouse has a larger income than the other, they may be required to pay monthly spousal support.
  • Prenuptial Agreements: If a prenuptial agreement was signed before the marriage, it may dictate the details of asset and liability division, child custody, child support, and spousal support.

Related: How to Prepare for the First Meeting with a Divorce Attorney

How Three Celebrities Are Managing Their 2023 Divorce

In 2023, three Hollywood stars began the divorce process. Let’s look at how they are navigating the details of their divorce.

Reese Witherspoon

In March 2023, Reese Witherspoon filed for divorce from husband Jim Toth, citing irreconcilable differences. The couple had been married for 12 years, and they share a 10-year-old son, Tennessee. The details of Witherspoon and Toth’s divorce likely won’t need to be heavily litigated as the couple signed a prenuptial agreement in March 2011. According to Page Six, the prenuptial agreement is valid and will provide “adequate and sufficient provisions” for their assets and debts.

Per the rules of Davidson County, Tennessee, the couple is required to register for a parenting class and complete the class within 60 days. According to reports, the couple is ready to have a judge sign off on the prenuptial agreement and permanent parenting plan.

Related: What Happens After Divorce Papers Are Served?

Kevin Costner

In early May 2023, Kevin Costner’s wife Christine Costner filed for divorce. Christine Costner cited irreconcilable differences as the reason to end the 18-year marriage, according to reporting by TMZ. Christine Costner is Kevin Costner’s second wife, and they share three children, ages 12, 14, and 15.

The Costners also had a prenuptial agreement. Kevin Costner’s legal response said, “spousal support to be payable to petitioner pursuant to the terms of the parties’ Premarital Agreement.” Christine Costner asked for joint custody in her filing, and it appears that her husband is in agreement on the custody agreement for their children, filing for joint custody as well.

Related: How Much Does a Divorce Cost in Florida?

Drake Bell

In April 2023, just a few weeks after Drake Bell was reported missing, his wife, Janet Von Schmeling filed for divorce. The couple has been married for four years and share a one-year-old son, according to reporting by TMZ.

Von Schmeling cited irreconcilable differences as the reason for the divorce, which comes months after the couple separated in September 2022. According to reports, Von Schmeling is seeking primary legal and physical custody of their son and spousal support. She would like Bell to have visitation rights.

Navigate Divorce with a Trusted Advisor

Hollywood stars have to go through the same legal process as everyone else when ending a marriage. They have to sort through divorce proceedings and determine the best way to split up their assets, set spousal and child support payments, and create parenting plans.

If you are going through a divorce and dealing with the same issues, make sure you have a trusted attorney on your side. Don’t delay. Talk to an experienced divorce attorney right away.

Schedule a call with TJ Grimaldi to discuss the details of your situation. Contact our office or call 813-226-1023.

It seemed like a wife was trying to turn a bad situation into something good. But shortly after a mother wrote a children’s book to help her children grieve their father’s death, authorities arrested her for his murder.

What led to charges against the mother, and what consequences does she face?

A Father of Three Found Dead

Early in the morning on March 4, 2022, authorities were called to the home of Kouri Darden Richins, her husband of nine years Eric Richins, and their three children aged six through ten.

According to reporting by USA Today, Kouri Darden Richins called 911 because she found her husband unresponsive on the floor of their home in Kamas, a small mountain town in Summit County, Utah. She told authorities she made her husband a celebratory drink before bed. They were celebrating the closing of an investment property. She said she then went to sleep in a child’s room who was afraid that night. When she went into her bedroom around 3 a.m., she found her husband on the floor.

Eric Richins was dead. A medical examiner said the cause of death was a fentanyl overdose. The father of three had nearly five times the lethal dosage of fentanyl in his system.

Related: Get Good Legal Representation by Asking This One Question

What Happened After the Father’s Death?

No immediate charges were filed in the case.

Kouri Darden Richins appeared to continue on with her life. The day after her husband’s death, she signed closing papers on the investment property she said they had planned to buy.

Later, she wrote and published a children’s book about grief. “Are You With Me?” is about a boy who questions whether his father is with him when he is emotional or celebrating a special occasion.

In April 2023, Kouri Darden Richins appeared on Good Things Utah to promote the book which was for sale on Amazon. She said she began researching “to try and understand not only how to grieve as a widow, as a wife, but also with my kids, how to help them, how to help them understand what just happened.”

One month after the appearance on the show, charges were filed in the case. Kouri Darden Richins was charged with her husband’s murder.

Why Was the Wife Charged?

More than a year after Eric Richins’ death, his wife was charged with felony first-degree aggravated murder and three counts of drug possession with intent to distribute, a second-degree felony.

Authorities believe Kouri Darden Richins purchased fentanyl and added a lethal dose to the before-bed drink she gave to her husband, causing his death.

Investigators found inconsistencies in Kouri Darden Richins’ story, and details about her financial situation led them to believe she is responsible for her husband’s death.

  • On the night of her husband’s death, Kouri Darden Richins said she left her phone in her bedroom. An investigation found that her phone had been locked and unlocked several times and had movement during the time she said she wasn’t near it.
  • Court documents revealed that Kouri Richins had an outstanding state and federal tax liability of $189,840, owed a hard money lender at least $1,847,760, and owed her husband $514,346.
  • Kouri Darden Richins took out almost $2 million in life insurance policies on her husband without his knowledge, according to reporting by KSLTV, an NBC affiliate.
  • The couple had been arguing over purchasing a $2 million property that Kouri Darden Richins wanted to flip. Eric Richins had told family members he wasn’t going to sign the closing papers. His wife closed on the house the day after his death.
  • In October 2022, Eric Richins consulted a divorce lawyer and an estate planning lawyer without his wife’s knowledge. He changed his will and placed his estate under the control of his sister for the benefit of his three children.

The details led to the arrest of Kouri Darden Richins.

Related: How to File for Divorce in Florida

What Consequences Does the Wife Face?

Kouri Darden Richins faces multiple charges in the state of Utah.

She faces a felony first-degree aggravated murder charge. In Utah, the punishment for the charge is life in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.

Kouri Darden Richins also faces three counts of drug possession with intent to distribute. The charges are a second-degree felony with a possible punishment of one to 15 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines.

Kouri Darden Richins’ next hearing is scheduled for June 12, 2023.

Get Legal Advice You Can Trust

If you or a loved one are involved with a civil or criminal legal matter, you need a trusted attorney by your side. When navigating the legal system, you need an attorney who can work for your best interest and lead your case toward the best possible outcome.

Do you have a case to review? Request a free consultation with attorney TJ Grimaldi today. Contact our office or call 813-226-1023.

For the first time in history, a former President of the United States has been found liable for sexual abuse and defamation. What does the verdict mean for Donald J. Trump, and what led to the case and the jury’s decision?

What Was the Case About?

In 2019, E. Jean Carroll, a journalist, author, and popular columnist, publicly stated that Donald J. Trump raped her in the mid-1990s. Caroll detailed the account in her memoir, What Do We Need Men For?: A Modest Proposal. Parts of the story were also included in an article for New York magazine.

In response to the release of the story, Trump made disparaging comments about Carroll. He said, “I’ve never met this person in my life.” He also called Caroll a “liar” and said, “She is trying to sell a new book — that should indicate her motivation. It should be sold in the fiction section.”

In November 2022, Caroll took her story to court.

Caroll filed a civil suit in New York, alleging that Trump raped her and then defamed her after she came out with her story. Carroll was able to file the assault case in civil court despite the statute of limitation due to a new law called the New York State Adult Survivors Act. The law allows litigation for sexual assault allegations that took place even decades ago.

“I’m here because Donald Trump raped me, and when I wrote about it, he said it didn’t happen,” Carroll testified during the trial. “He lied and shattered my reputation, and I’m here to try to get my life back.”

Related: What Does It Take to Be an Attorney for a High-Profile Case? 

What Was the Outcome of the Case?

The case was heard in front of a nine-person jury in New York state.

During the trial, Caroll took the stand to share her experience. Her legal team called ten others to testify which included two women who testified that Trump also sexually assaulted them.

While Trump has denied any wrongdoing, his legal team did not present a defense in the case. They called no witnesses, and Trump did not attend the trial. Trump’s team asked for a mistrial, but it was not granted by the judge.

The two-week trial ended with a jury of six men and three women determining that Trump was liable for sexually abusing and defaming Carroll.

The jury said there was enough evidence to believe that Trump sexually abused Carroll, but they did not find enough evidence to say that Trump raped her. 

As reported by CNN, a person is liable for sexual abuse when they subject another person to sexual contact without consent. Under New York law, “sexual contact” means “any touching of the sexual or other intimate parts of a person for the purpose of gratifying the sexual desire of either party.”

The jury also said Trump defamed Carroll when he denied her story. 

As reported by NPR, the jury found that Trump had acted “maliciously, out of hatred, ill will, spite or wanton, reckless, or willful disregard of the rights of another.”

Related: Dealing With the Media During a High-Profile Case: What to Expect

What Are the Consequences?

The jury awarded Carroll a total of $5 million.

In finding Trump liable for battery, the jury awarded Carroll $2 million in compensatory damages and an additional $20,000 in punitive damages.

In finding Trump liable for defamation, the jury awarded Carroll $2.7 million in compensatory damages and an additional $280,000 for punitive damages.

Because the case was a civil case, Trump will face no jail time.

The verdict does not impact Trump’s presidential race. He can continue his bid for the presidency.

Related: What’s the Difference Between a Civil and Criminal Case? 

What Will Happen Next?

Trump continues to say he has done nothing wrong, and his legal team filed an appeal the day the verdict was announced.

One day after the jury found Trump guilty of defaming Carroll, Trump again spoke publicly about Carroll during a televised town hall on CNN calling, her a “wack job.”

According to the New York Times, Carroll’s attorney Roberta A. Kaplan said she is considering filing a new defamation lawsuit against Trump as he continues to speak publicly about Carroll.

Get Trusted Legal Advice

Whether you are bringing a case against a person or company or you are facing civil or criminal charges, seek legal advice right away. Don’t enter into a legal matter without a trusted attorney by your side. Work with a partner who can help you understand the complexities of the law and guide you to the best possible outcome for your case.

Review your case today. Request a consultation with attorney TJ Grimaldi. Request your free consultation by contacting our office or calling 813-226-1023 today.

UT Student Shooting

[The Orchard Park Central School District]

An ordinary night out ended in tragedy when a University of Tampa student tried to get into the wrong car and ended up fatally wounded by a gunshot.

What happened, and why was the shooter not charged in this deadly incident?

What Happened That Night?

On a Saturday night in September 2022, 19-year-old University of Tampa student Carson Senfield went out with friends in the popular nightlife district on South Howard Avenue in Tampa, Florida. He was celebrating his birthday.

When he was ready to go home, Senfield got into an Uber to take him to his house on the 1000 block of West Arch Street. According to reporting by the Tampa Bay Times, he got out of the Uber but never made it into the house.

At around 1:20 a.m., instead of going inside, Senfield tried to get into a car.

An attorney for Senfield’s family says they believe he thought the car was an Uber. They think Senfield couldn’t find his keys, so he called an Uber to take him back to the bar to meet his roommates. But the car wasn’t an Uber.

When Senfield opened the door and attempted to get in the backseat, the driver of the car turned and shot him.

Senfield died from his injuries.

What Do We Know About the Shooter?

The identity of the driver hasn’t been publicly released. Public reports redacted the shooter’s name, citing Marsy’s Law. Marsy’s Law refers to Florida Statutes that are typically used to protect the rights of victims of a crime.

What has been publicly shared about the shooter is their account of the incident and what the state plans to do about it.

The owner of the car said they were afraid when Senfield opened the door and tried to get in. The driver said they didn’t know Senfield or why he was trying to get into the car, and they feared for their life which is why they opened fire.

Hillsborough State Attorney Susan Lopez decided not to file charges against the shooter.

Case Shows Similarities to Other Recent Shootings

News about the state’s decision not to file charges came out shortly after a string of four other seemingly innocent actions led to shootings across the United States.

A car pulling in the wrong driveway, a kid’s basketball rolling in the wrong driveway, a teen knocking on the wrong door, and most similarly, a cheerleader getting into the wrong car all resulted in shots fired — and charges filed.

In each of those cases, the shooters were charged with crimes.

So, what was different in this case?

Related: Will Man Go to Jail for Shooting a Teen Who Knocked on His Door?

Why Weren’t Charges Filed?

On December 27, 2022, Hillsborough State Attorney Susan Lopez sent a letter to interim Tampa police Chief Lee Bercaw indicating that the state would not file charges against the shooter.

The letter, obtained by the Tampa Bay Times, said, “A review of the facts gathered during the investigation and applicable law compels the conclusion that [redacted] use of deadly force against Carson Senfield was justified pursuant to Florida Statute 776.012(2).”

Florida Statute 776.012 is often referred to as “stand your ground” laws.

What Are “Stand Your Ground” Laws

Florida law says, “A person is justified in using or threatening to use deadly force if he or she reasonably believes that using or threatening to use such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another.”

Stand your ground laws say a person in Florida does not have a duty to retreat if they feel their life is in danger. An individual can use deadly force without first trying to get away.

Stand your ground laws can be used as a self-defense defense. If a person is charged with homicide, they can attempt to prove that they felt their life was in danger when they took action that led to the death of another person.

Stand your ground laws can also be used to stop charges from being made. In this case, the State Attorney declined to file charges because they believed the driver was justified in shooting Senfield pursuant to stand your ground laws.

Related: Will “Stand Your Ground” Get Former FSU Receiver Travis Rudolph Out of Murder Charges?

Talk to a Trusted Attorney

If you or a loved one are navigating the complexities of the legal system, work with a trusted attorney who can guide you through the process. Find an attorney who will fight for your best interest and work to get you the best possible outcome for your case. Talk to a trusted attorney today. Call 813-226-1023 or request your consultation with TJ Grimaldi.

Supporting Victims of Gun Violence

TJ Grimaldi is Executive Director and Board Member of The Oulson Family Foundation, a non-profit created to help kids get the resources they need in the wake of being impacted by gun violence. Learn more about The Oulson Family Foundation and see how you can help support children impacted by gun violence.

Rocks First Degree Murder

Photo via Jefferson County, CO Sheriff’s Office

One evening ruined the lives of four young people. The reckless actions of three teenage boys led to the death of a 20-year-old young woman. Now the three teens face serious consequences for their actions.

What did they do to get charged with murder, and how might their lives change forever?

Reckless Actions Lead to a Death

On April 19, three 18-year-olds drove around Arvada, Colorado in a black 2016 Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck, causing danger and damage. Joseph Koenig, Nicholas Karol-Chik, and Zachary Kwak, all high school seniors at separate schools, were in the vehicle.

As they drove around, the teens threw large landscaping rocks at passing vehicles. The rocks weighed between three to five pounds each, as reported by NBC News.

After hitting six other vehicles, the teen’s car approached the car of 20-year-old Alexa Bartell at around 10:45 p.m.

As Bartell passed the teen’s vehicle, they threw a rock at her. The rock crashed through the window, hitting Bartell.

Bartell had been on the phone with a friend when the rock hit her car. When she went silent, the friend tracked Bartell’s phone and drove to the location. There, she found her friend off the roadway in a field dead.

Reckless Actions Lead to First-Degree Murders Charges

Less than a week after the accident, the three teens were arrested and charged with first-degree murder with extreme indifference.

Tips from the public and cell phone data helped identify the three teenagers as the culprits.

After the arrest, Karol-Chik reportedly told police that all three teens threw rocks at cars. He said Kwak threw the rock that hit Bartell and that the boys turned around and took a photo of her car. Kwak reportedly said the teens agreed to never speak of the incident again, according to reporting by ABC News.

The three teens now face serious consequences for their reckless actions.

Related: If You’re Arrested for a Crime, Immediately Take These 6 Steps

What’s First-Degree Murder With Extreme Indifference?

All three of the teens are charged with first-degree murder with extreme indifference.

First-degree murder is the most serious form of homicide in Colorado. It is defined as a homicide that is intentional, malicious, and deliberate.

The punishment for first-degree murder in Colorado is, at a minimum, life in prison. The maximum punishment for first-degree murder is the death penalty.

The first-degree murder charge includes a charge of extreme indifference. 

Murder in the first degree with extreme indifference is defined in Colorado statute 3-1:05 as the crime of murder “under circumstances evidencing an attitude of universal malice manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life generally, knowingly, engaged in conduct which created a grave risk of death to a person or persons other than himself, and thereby caused the death of another.”

The indifference charge is used in cases where a defendant is accused of intending harm with no specific victim.

One example of the use of the indifference charge is in 2012 Colorado movie theater shooting. In 2015, James E. Holmes was found guilty on charges of first-degree murder with indifference. Holmes committed an act to kill with no intended victim when he walked into a movie theater and opened fire.

The teens are accused of taking action to cause harm with no intended victim.

Possibility of a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

The teens will face criminal charges in court and a possibility of a wrongful death civil suit.

Bartell’s family could sue the teens for wrongful death. To sue for wrongful death, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant acted negligently and that their actions caused a death.

At this time, the family has not said if they will pursue civil charges. According to the sheriff’s spokesperson Jacki Kelley, the family is just grateful the individuals responsible are being held accountable.

Related: Examples of Wrongful Death Cases Worth Fighting For

Get Expert Legal Advice

If you or a loved one are involved in a civil or criminal legal matter, ensure you have a trusted attorney by your side. Get expert legal advice to guide you through the complexities of the legal system and ensure that you get the most fair and just outcome.

If you have a legal case to discuss, contact attorney TJ Grimaldi. Request your free consultation by contacting our office or calling 813-226-1023 today.

In less than two weeks, four innocent mistakes lead to gun violence. The four shootings, involving mostly young people as the victims, were triggered by seemingly harmless interactions that the shooters perceived as dangerous threats.

What do laws say about the right to protect yourself, and which shooters will be charged for their actions?

Four Mistakes Lead to Four Shootings

Teen Shot After Ringing the Wrong Doorbell

Last week, this blog covered the story of Raphael Yarl. Yarl, a 16-year-old living in Kansas City Missouri, was told by his mother to pick up his siblings at a friend’s house. Yarl mixed up the address and went to the wrong house. Around 10 p.m., he rang the doorbell and was shot by 84-year-old Andrew D. Lester.

Yarl was shot once in the head and once in the arm. He survived his injuries.

Two Teen Girls Shot After Getting Into the Wrong Car

In the same week, two teenage girls were in a grocery store parking garage in Elgin, a town about 25 miles northeast of Austin, Texas. Per reporting, the two girls were on their way home from cheerleading practice. They typically parked in the garage and carpooled to practice. It was around 12:15 a.m. when one of the girls tried to get into the wrong car, mistaking it for her own. She opened the driver’s door and saw a man sitting in the passenger seat. She got out and back into her friend’s car when the man, 25-year-old Pedro Tello Rodriguez Jr., approached the vehicle and fired shots.

The female driving the car was critically injured.

Six-Year-Old and Father Shot After Basketball Rolls into the Wrong Yard

Authorities are still investigating what happened in Gastonia, a town west of Charlotte, North Carolina. According to reports, children were outside playing when their basketball rolled into the yard where 24-year-old Robert Louis Singletary was living. Singletary came out of the house and yelled at the kids. The father of a 6-year-old girl playing outside approached the house and said something to Singletary. Singletary then walked into the house and came back out with a gun and fired shots, hitting the man and his daughter.

The girl had a bullet fragment in her cheek and was released from the hospital. Her father was hospitalized with serious injuries.

20-Year-Old Killed After Pulling Into the Wrong Driveway

During the same week, Kaylin Gillis was a passenger in a vehicle with three friends who were driving around a rural area of upstate New York trying to find a friend’s house. Per reporting, Gillis’ friend pulled into a long driveway mistaking it for their friend’s house. The homeowner, 65-year-old Kevin Monahan fired two shots at the car from the porch.

Gillis was shot and pronounced dead shortly after the incident.

Were the Shooters Charged?

Each of the incidents is reported to have stemmed from innocent mistakes. The victims appear to have not meant any harm to the shooter.

But if the shooters felt in danger, are their actions warranted?

Currently, each of the shooters face charges for their actions.

  • Lester was charged with first-degree assault and armed criminal action for shooting the teen at his door.
  • Rodriguez was charged with deadly conduct, a third-degree felony in Texas, for shooting at the two teenage cheerleaders.
  • Singletary was charged with attempted first-degree murder, assault with a deadly weapon, and possession of a firearm for shooting at the six-year-old and her father.
  • Monahan was charged with second-degree murder for shooting and killing the passenger of the vehicle turning around in his yard.

Related: If You’re Arrested for a Crime, Immediately Take These 6 Steps

How Will the Shooters Defend Their Case?

The four shootings occurred in different states and will follow the laws of the states where the incidents occurred. Each state has unique laws as they relate to self-defense.

Three of the states — Missouri, Texas, and North Carolina — have “stand your ground” laws that say an individual has no duty to retreat from a hostile situation before using deadly force if they feel their life or the life of another is in danger.

New York has laws that require a “duty to retreat.” The law says individuals that have an opportunity to retreat should do so before using deadly force.

Lester and Monahan have pleaded not guilty to their charges. It’s not clear whether Singletary or Rodriguez have entered their plea.

If any of the shooters claim self-defense, they will have to prove that they felt their life was in danger when they fired the shots. 

Monahan, who fired at a car from his porch and in New York state with no stand your ground laws, will likely have the most difficult case to prove self-defense. The other cases in states with stand your ground laws may have a stronger defense, but the defendants will have to prove they feared for their life, which may be difficult considering the situation of each case.

If you have questions about a pending criminal case, schedule a call with TJ Grimaldi. Request your consultation or call 813-226-1023.

Supporting Children Impacting by Gun Violence

TJ Grimaldi works to fight for children impacted by gun violence. Grimaldi is the Executive Director and Board Member of The Oulson Family Foundation, a non-profit created to honor the life and legacy of Chad Oulson, whose life ended in a senseless act of gun violence.

Grimaldi works to help kids get the resources they need in the wake of being impacted by gun violence. Learn more about The Oulson Family Foundation and see how you can help support children impacted by gun violence.

A teenage boy made a mistake while picking up his siblings. He rang the wrong doorbell. The mistake left him with two bullet wounds after the homeowner saw him at the door and shot.

The teen will survive his injuries, but what will happen to the man who shot him for ringing the wrong doorbell?

Ringing the Wrong Doorbell

Raphael Yarl’s younger siblings were at a friend’s house on April 13, 2023. Yarl’s mother told him to go pick them up at 115th Terrace, a street in the northern part of Kansas City, Missouri.

But 16-year-old Yarl made a mistake. He went to 115th Street instead of 115th Terrace.

According to Yarl’s aunt and lawyers, Yarl parked in the driveway, walked up to the door, and rang the doorbell. It was shortly before 10 p.m. The homeowner, 84-year-old Andrew D. Lester came to the door. No words were exchanged. Lester opened the main door and used a .32-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver to shoot at Yarl through the storm door, hitting him twice, once in the head and once in the arm.

Yarl’s aunt, Faith Spoonmore shared Yarl’s side of the story, as reported by NPR. “The man inside opened up the door and shot him in the head through the glass door. When Raphael was on the ground, he shot him again,” she said.

The 16-year-old high school junior got up and ran to a neighbor’s house for help. He was taken to a hospital, where he received care and was released three days later.

Related: If You’re Arrested for a Crime, Immediately Take These 6 Steps

Why Did the Homeowner Shoot?

Lester called 911 after the incident. He was taken into custody and brought in for questioning.

According to a police statement, Lester said he shot at Yarl because he was afraid. He thought his house was being broken into. He saw a tall man at the door and claimed Yarl was pulling at the storm door handle.

Yarl said he didn’t attempt to open the door, and it appears that he never crossed the threshold of the door.

Lester was released from custody without charges. Missouri law requires that a suspect must be charged within 24 hours or else be released. Police said Lester was released because he was cooperating and not considered a flight risk.

But the case did not end there.

Four days after the shooting, charges were filed. Clay County prosecutor Zachary Thompson determined that Lester’s actions were criminal and charged him with first-degree assault and armed criminal action, as reported by the New York Times.

The shooting took place in Missouri and will follow Missouri law. In Missouri, armed criminal action carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.

Related: Misdemeanor vs Felony: What’s the Difference? 

Will the Shooter See Jail Time?

Lester’s legal team may choose to use two defenses to fight the charges against him. They may use laws often referred to as “stand your ground” and “the castle doctrine.”

Missouri, like Florida, is one of about 30 states with stand your ground laws. In general, stand your ground laws say a person has no duty to retreat from a hostile situation before using deadly force. If a person feels their life or the life of another is in danger, they may use deadly force.

The castle doctrine is another type of self defense law. It says a person has no duty to retreat before using deadly force if they are in their home and believe an intruder intends to harm them or someone else.

For Lester to use a stand your ground or castle doctrine defense, he would have to prove that he reasonably felt his life was in danger when he fired his gun at Yarl. 

Since no words were shared between the man and the teen and Yarl didn’t appear to try to enter the home, it may be a difficult case to make.

When Lester was formally arraigned, he pleaded not guilty. We will wait and see how Lester’s team may try to defend his actions — and if a jury agrees with their position.

Talk to a criminal defense attorney if you or someone you know is facing potential legal charges. The sooner you talk to an experienced attorney, the sooner you can weigh your options and know what to expect. Talk to TJ Grimaldi today. Request your consultation or call 813-226-1023.

Supporting Victims of Gun Violence

TJ Grimaldi stands with children impacted by gun violence. As the Executive Director and Board Member of The Oulson Family Foundation, TJ works to help kids get the resources they need in the wake of being impacted by gun violence.

The Oulson Family Foundation was created to honor the life and legacy of Chad Oulson, whose life ended in a senseless act of gun violence. Learn more about The Oulson Family Foundation and see how you can help support victims of gun violence.