A trial will begin Tuesday for a man prosecutors say persuaded his girlfriend to take the blame for an April 2014 drunken crash in Boca Raton that killed a bicyclist.
Paul Maida, 32, of Boca Raton, faces several charges, including DUI manslaughter, leaving the scene of a fatal crash, driving with a revoked license and making a false report to police, in connection with the death of 65-year-old George Morreale, who died after a Ford F-150 veered into a bike lane on Yamato Road near Interstate 95 and hit him.
Police initially charged Maida’s now ex-girlfriend, Bianca Fichtel, in the crash but she later told them that Maida was actually the driver and she switched seats with him after the wreck.
Assistant State Attorney Laura Burkhart Laurie and Maida’s attorney, Robert Resnick, spent Monday questioning prospective jurors before they selected a panel of six and two alternates. Circuit Judge Charles Burton instructed the panel to return Tuesday for opening statements and the start of testimony.
According to arrest reports, the F-150 initially drove right through the crash that ejected Morreale from his bicycle and onto the hood of the truck before he landed in an outside lane of the road. Rescue workers say Morreale sustained blunt force trauma and died at the scene.
The truck soon returned to the scene, but arrest reports show Fichtel told police she had been driving. Police, who noted that Maida appeared intoxicated, tested Fichtel’s blood and later found out that she had more than a half-dozen prescription drugs in her system at the time of the crash.
Although she was the one who initially faced charges in Morreale’s death, police dropped charges against Fichtel and in December 2015 charged Maida after they examined hundreds of emails between the former couple. In court records earlier this month, Resnick asked Burton to keep prosecutors from showing the emails to jurors.
“The multiple statements of Bianca Romas-Fichtel, demanding that the defendant not let her suffer, not go forward with their relationship unless he confessed to being the driver, that he is not being a man, that he promised he would confess, and so on, are all statements that either play to the emotions of the jury or will inflame the jury against the defendant,” Resnick wrote.
In the emails, exchanged over more than a year while Fichtel was on house arrest, Maida explained he was sorry and he loved her so much that he wanted to fix the situation.
“I never meant for any of this to happen and you know that. I wish I can go back and change what happened but I can’t. It’s something I have to live with every day,” he wrote, telling her at one point that he was going to come forward and had been seeking legal advice.
In March 2016, Morreale’s widow, Lois, sued Maida for an unspecified amount of damages, saying that he was negligent in causing the crash.