I wrote an article last September on the Jacksonville attorneys website about a fatal accident that occurred on San Jose Boulevard on Yom Kippur. Esther Benzohar Ohayon, a 57-year-old woman, was killed and her daughter was injured when they attempted to cross the street in a crosswalk (Read Jacksonville Driver Did Not Have FL Drivers License During Car Accident for more information about the accident). Michael Fortunato, a 66-year-old man, was driving the vehicle. After an investigation, the Florida Highway Patrol issued three citations on March 10, 2014. The Jacksonville traffic tickets were issued approximately six months after the accident. “After charges against Michael Fortunato in the death of Esther Ohayon were finally revealed, many in the Jewish community viewed it as a slap on the wrist.” People are upset that Fortunato is not facing criminal charges. His Jacksonville traffic tickets are merely civil infractions, not criminal traffic tickets.
“Fortunato is facing civil charges of careless driving, failure to yield to a pedestrian within a crosswalk, and driving with an expired driver’s license.” His Florida drivers license had been expired less than 6 months. Note that this traffic violation is not the same as Jacksonville driving on a suspended or revoked license, which can be a criminal charge if it is done with knowledge. While it is understandable that people are upset that Fortunato was not charged with a crime, the Florida Highway Patrol can only charge him based on the evidence presented. They cannot overcharge him due to the community’s outrage. For example, if there were evidence that this was a hit and run crash, he could have been charged with leaving the scene of an accident in Jacksonville. Due to the death, this may have resulted in a mandatory prison sentence, but that is not the case here. The police investigated the case for 6 months and only found evidence for three civil traffic tickets.
Part of the reason that people feel that this is an injustice is because “about four years prior to the accident that killed Ohayon, Fortunato was the driver behind the wheel of another crash that killed a 6-year-old case.” FHP called this a tragic coincidence and stating:
“Most of us go through our life without being involved in a tragedy like this and unfortunately Mr. Fortunato has been involved in two…. Based on the investigation with all the information that we gathered, there was nothing criminal of nature in this case. He didn’t have a malicious intent…. Mr. Fortunato was driving southbound on San Jose Boulevard and did indeed have a green light. Our investigation did not show excessive speed, it did not show alcohol impairment, it did not show any controlled substance impairment. In addition to that they looked into phone records. He wasn’t texting, he wasn’t on the phone during the collision.”
Fortunato has a court date next month for the civil traffic tickets. Action News of Jacksonville reported, “A source close to the Fortunato family said he has turned in his license and has hired someone to drive him during work hours.” As for Fortunato’s liability, “In a statement via their attorney, Ilana Ohayon, Esther Ohayon’s older daughter, said, ‘Instead of focusing on the specific charges that were filed, we choose to focus on the fact that Mr. Fortunato will have to formally answer in court for his action and his failure to act responsibly.’” Just because Fortunato was not charged with a crime, he still may face a civil lawsuit.