Editor’s Note: This is the fifth in a series of 24 articles published by The Apopka Voice in 2017 that were among the most noteworthy. We will post all of them from December 26th and December 31st. Then on Monday, January 1st we will poll our readers and let them decide which is Apopka's biggest story of 2017.
First published on April 11th, 2017
Richard Anderson stood quietly by his attorney Warren Lindsey in a Lake County courtroom Tuesday morning and listened as Circuit Court Judge Lawrence Semento read his plea agreement into the record. It was a sentence that did not please Micheal Falcon or his family.
The Lake County Attorney's Office charged Anderson with leaving the scene of a crash with serious bodily injury, leaving the scene of a crash with property damage, reckless driving with serious bodily injury, and reckless driving with property damage. All of the charges are third-degree felonies, which in Florida has a maximum punishment of five years in prison, five years probation, and a $5,000 fine per count. However, the State dropped two of those charges - reckless driving with serious bodily injury and reckless driving with property damage because they could not prove Anderson was driving his vehicle at the time of the crash.
According to the agreement, Anderson pled no contest (nolo contendre) to leaving the scene of a crash with serious bodily injury and leaving the scene of a crash with property damage. Semento sentenced him to three years probation for the first charge and six months probation on the second. Both sentences will run concurrently, and adjudication of guilt was withheld in both charges, which means Anderson will not have a felony record from these charges if he completes his probation successfully. Anderson's driver's license was also suspended for three years, but he can apply for reinstatement upon completion of an impact panel or completion of a department-approved driver improvement program. He may also apply for early termination of probation after successful completion of half the period of probation.
“It doesn’t seem there was any justice at all,” said Renee Falcon, Falcon's former wife. “It’s nothing. Probation is nothing. What message does it send to the community?"
Despite the inability to prove Anderson was sitting in the driver's seat at the time of the crash, the State Attorney was able to present a strong case against him leaving the scene of a catastrophic head-on collision.
At approximately 1:20 am on April 5th of 2016, Falcon responded to an alarm at his workplace. He got into his 2007 Toyota Corolla and headed towards the Seminole County wastewater treatment facility where he is a supervisor. He turned onto SR46 in Lake County from 46A and shortly after was struck head-on by a 2014 Dodge Ram going 45 miles-per-hour, according to a memo written by Assistant State Attorney Emily Currington.
The 2014 Dodge Ram was owned by Richard Anderson, the former City Administrator of Apopka.
The memo also stated that "no one witnessed the accident occur but several passing motorists saw the aftermath of the crash and stopped to render assistance. These witnesses did not see either driver exit their respective vehicle. Falcon was located on the side of the road near the entrance to Rock Springs Run State Reserve. A white male was reported to have been walking around the scene and near the Dodge Ram truck. The white male later left the scene without speaking to law enforcement."
Also from Curington's memo were FHP's interviews with witnesses at the scene of the crash.
FHP Trooper Gregory Reed of the Florida Highway Patrol responded to the crash scene and conducted the initial investigation. Reed found the driver’s door of the Dodge Ram to be open when he arrived. A firearm was in the driver’s door pocket in plain view. Reed seized the firearm and placed it into evidence. He then arranged for the vehicles to be towed from the scene.
FHP Trooper Joshua Evans conducted the investigation into the hit and run portion of the crash. Evans met with the three witnesses who stopped to render aid after the crash. Janae Okonewski was on her way home from work as a server at Gator’s Dockside in Lake Mary. She had a first aid kit in her vehicle and stopped to help Falcon. Okonewski said she saw a white male standing near the Dodge Ram. She described him as being between the door and the interior of the truck on the driver’s side, reaching into the vehicle. Okonewski positively identified Richard Anderson in a photo lineup as the person she saw outside the Dodge Ram.
Evans interviewed Edwin Vasquez. Vasquez said he called 911 to report the crash. He said while he was on the phone with them, an older white male approached him. He described the male as "an older white male with white hair and a facial scrub who resembled Colonel Sanders". Evans interviewed Matthew Moore, who arrived at the crash scene shortly after the crash occurred. Moore said he saw a man standing by the open driver’s door of the Dodge Ram. Moore said while he was on the phone with 911 the male approached him and asked, “What road is this?” Moore identified Richard Anderson in a photo lineup as the person he saw standing between the open driver’s door and the body of the Dodge Ram.
Evans interviewed Matthew Moore, who arrived at the crash scene shortly after the crash occurred. Moore said he saw a man standing by the open driver’s door of the Dodge Ram. Moore said while he was on the phone with 911 the male approached him and asked, “What road is this?” Moore identified Richard Anderson in a photo lineup as the person he saw standing between the open driver’s door and the body of the Dodge Ram.
Phone records also indicated that Anderson placed 10 calls shortly after the crash (between 1:25 am and 1:57 am on April 5, 2016). The majority of the calls were placed to attorneys Nicole Guillet and Frank Kruppenbacher. Both have claimed attorney-client privilege as it pertains to the content of any conversation with Anderson. Anderson did not make a 911 call after the crash, according to phone records.
Guillet worked with Anderson in Apopka as deputy chief administrative officer and community development director for the city of Apopka while Anderson was City Administrator. She is currently the County Manager of Seminole County.
Kruppenbacher is a lawyer with Morgan and Morgan, who was the Apopka City Attorney while Anderson was City Administrator.
According to Currington's memo, the State's reason for accepting the plea was that accident reconstruction expert Christopher Stewart concluded there were two people in Anderson's truck at the time of the crash. Currington writes:
"On March 17, 2017, the deposition of Christopher Stewart, listed by the defense as an expert witness, was conducted. Stewart is an engineer with extensive training in accident reconstruction. Stewart testified that in October 2016 he examined the Dodge Ram truck at a salvage yard in Sanford. He conducted a visual inspection of the vehicle and downloaded the data contained on the event data recorder in the vehicle. Stewart concluded that both front seats of the Ram were occupied at the time of the crash. Airbags and knee bolsters on both the driver and passenger sides of the vehicles deployed. The seat belts pretensions on both sides of the vehicle were engaged, which is indicative that both seats were occupied at the time of the crash. The glove compartment was broken apart and separated from the dashboard, which is indicative of an impact. The windshield on the passenger side of the vehicle is broken. Stewart also concluded the Ram was traveling westbound in the eastbound lane of travel. He testified the point of impact was completely across the center line when it struck the Corolla at approximately 45 miles per hour."
Because of Stewart's testimony, Currington says the State could not prove Anderson was behind the wheel.
"The State is unable to rebut the testimony of Christopher Stewart that there was a passenger in the vehicle at the time of the crash," she writes. "There were no witnesses to the crash, and none of the motorists who stopped shortly after the crash saw Anderson behind the wheel of the Dodge Ram. Accordingly, the State is unable to prove beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt Anderson was driving the Dodge Ram at the time of the crash. The State is unable to rebut a reasonable hypothesis of innocence that Anderson was not the driver but rather the passenger in his truck at the time of the crash. Thus there is no factual basis for the crimes of Reckless Driving Causing Serious Bodily Injury and Reckless Driving Causing Property Damage. Accordingly, a nolle prosequi will be filed as to Counts II and IV of the Information."
Currington also stated that investigators from the Florida Highway Patrol took no photos of the vehicles at any point after the crash, did not examine the event data recorder, and did not collect or submit DNA analysis from the airbags.
Before the verdict was read, two of Falcon's six children asked the court to give Anderson a harsh sentence.
Falcon’s daughter, Heather, 24, read a statement on behalf of the family that described the injuries her father suffered, which included a concussion, a punctured lung, a fractured sternum, three herniated discs, a broken hand and two broken wrists.
"He (Falcon) pried himself from his car in pain," she said. "In fear, he would die on the highway... while Anderson paced on the phone near his truck. It was cruel and the fact that Anderson was a licensed paramedic was an extra slap in the face. Mr. Anderson's actions should not be taken lightly. It's should not be okay to leave the scene of an accident."
Amber Falcon, 17, echoed her sister's thoughts.
"As my father lay bleeding on the ground he (Anderson) walked away - a trained paramedic. The anniversary of this tragic event has passed, but not the memories. I pray Anderson has reflected on his actions. People are watching. I ask today that Anderson be punished."
By Reggie Connell/ Managing Editor of The Apopka Voice
First published July 22nd, 2017
In the early morning hours of April 5th, Richard Anderson changed a lot of lives. When his Dodge Ram crossed the center line on SR46 and crashed into Michael Falcon's Toyota, the former City Administrator took the Apopka community on one of the darkest journeys in its history.
This story has been a chronic malignancy in the Apopka news cycle for over 15 months now. It's a story writers don't like writing. It's an issue the City Council doesn't want to deliberate. It's a case the Lake County State Attorney, and the Florida Highway Patrol would like to put behind them. It's a subject the residents of Apopka don't want to talk about.
And now it's time for it to end. It's time for this tragic, unthinkable, unending saga to conclude, and I'm calling on you, Mr. Anderson, to drop this lawsuit.
I don't know how much money you have made in Apopka, but I suspect you are approaching seven figures after a long career as a paramedic, fire chief, city administrator, consultant, and lobbyist. I was not the Managing Editor of The Apopka Voice when you were city administrator, but I am told by people who knew you that you did a good job. I take them at their word and have no reason to believe you didn't love Apopka with the passion I am told you did.
If that is the case, if you truly love Apopka, then I urge you to end this polarizing issue and let Apopka heal. Forego the trial. Nothing good can come from it.
Count your blessings, sir. You were involved in a head-on collision. The person your pickup crashed into was seriously injured and airlifted to ORMC. Three 911 calls were made on his behalf. None were from you Mr. Anderson, despite making several calls shortly after the collision, but at least you were able to walk away relatively uninjured.
Some might classify that as a miracle.
A year later the Lake County State Attorney agreed to a shocking plea agreement that sentenced you to three years probation on the charge of leaving the scene of a crash involving injury, and six months probation on the charge of leaving the scene of an accident. Two other charges – reckless driving causing serious bodily injury, and reckless driving with bodily damage were dropped because the prosecutors claimed the Florida Highway Patrol was unable to prove you drove the vehicle. Considering the maximum penalty for those charges was five years in prison, five years probation, and a $5,000 fine per count, everyone can agree it was an extremely lenient sentence.
The Apopka City Commission voted 3-2 Wednesday to reject your $60,000 settlement agreement. And with that split decision comes a polarized Apopka.
Mayor Joe Kilsheimer gave no opinion in the discussion except to read from a prepared statement that shows his hope for a fast conclusion to this matter.
“Earlier in the case, we proposed that both sides walk away from the litigation with no money changing hands. At mediation, the choice became this... decide on my own to take the case to trial or bring a settlement agreement back to this council. After some interaction, it became clear that I could not substitute my judgment for the Council's judgment. With regards to whether the city should continue this litigation is, in my opinion, better to express the will of the community through this City Council rather than my judgment alone. With regards to this amount, this is the lowest amount to which the other side would agree.”
Commissioner Doug Bankson took a pragmatic approach that few could disagree with.
“Haven't we already suffered and are we just extending something that only further hurts our city for personal vindictiveness? We’ve all sat through all these budget hearings. Looking at the financial side, it does have ramifications as well because it affects what we can do for our city and citizens.”
Commissioner Kyle Becker also took an approach few could disagree with.
"My litmus test, the first thing I'm asking myself is right versus wrong. For that reason, I'm willing to risk dollars if it means we're doing the right thing to protect the integrity of the people of this town who entrust people like Mr. Anderson. That's where my stance is and I really don't think I'm budging on this one."
It's simply wrong to pay you a settlement when the fault lies with you, Mr. Anderson. With all due respect, you were convicted of two felonies, nearly killed a person, watched as less qualified passers-by came to his aid while you made 10-plus phone calls, and walked away. If the mayor, any member of the City Council, or any department head of the City of Apopka had committed those acts, they would have resigned or been fired. They would not have counter-sued the city, and most of them make a lot less money than you did.
I would also draw from the wisdom of Commissioner Bankson...
“Haven't we already suffered and are we just extending something that only further hurts our city for personal vindictiveness?"
I would ask Bankson's question of you, sir. What is the motivation for extending this case? If vindictiveness plays a part in this case, please rise above it, Mr. Anderson.
For the sake of Apopka forego this lawsuit. Do not put this city through another trauma. Allow your final action in this matter to be a selfless act.