Two years after their 29-year-old son was killed while bicycling home on PGA Boulevard, Raul and Susan Lozano have reached a $1.3 million settlement with an Acreage man who escaped criminal charges by saying he thought he had hit a wild hog.
But the money the Lozanos got from George Meada’s insurer to settle their civil lawsuit isn’t enough, said attorney Ryan Fogg, who represents the couple, who live in the Caloosa community off Beeline Highway in northern Palm Beach County.
They want the Florida Legislature to plug a legal loophole that allowed Meada to beat a charge of leaving the scene of an accident simply by saying he didn’t know he had hit a person. Police say Meada’s vehicle struck and killed Corey Lozano in June 2015 as the retiree and his wife were headed home from a night out at J Alexander’s in Palm Beach Gardens.
“When they found out Mr. Meada was not getting charged, they were very upset that it was not going forward,” Fogg said of the Lozanos. “It’s unfair the way the law is written. It protects those who commit a crime.”
Florida Rep. Emily Slosberg, who lost her twin sister to a traffic accident in 1996 when they both were 14, said she is willing to help. While not familiar with the case, the Delray Beach Democrat said she, too, was stunned that people could escape responsibility for a traffic death simply by claiming ignorance.
“The interpretation of the current law encourages defendants to not take responsibility for their actions,” she said, pledging to file a bill to address the issue.
But attorney Mitchell Beers, who persuaded the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office to drop the charge against the 67-year-old Meada, predicted a fix would fail.
He said the Florida Supreme Court made the right call in 2015 when it ruled that prosecutors must prove a driver has “actual knowledge” that a person has been hit to win a conviction against someone for leaving the scene of an accident.
Contrary to the Lozanos’ belief that Meada lied to escape a charge that could have sent him to prison for as long as 30 years, he truly didn’t know he’d hit Lozano, a former baseball standout at Summit Christian High School and Florida International University, Beers said.
It was dark. Lozano was wearing black. He didn’t have a light on his bike, Beers said. Meada “knew he hit something,” Beers said. “It could have been a hog. It could have been a gator. It could have been anything.”
It wasn’t until the next day, when Meada heard news reports that a passing motorist had found Lozano’s body along PGA Boulevard, just east of Beeline Highway, that he realized what he hit was a person, not an animal, according to Palm Beach Gardens police.
They linked Meada to the crash after a tow truck driver contacted them, saying Meada had him tow his damaged Lexus SUV to Pompano Beach for repairs. Police had found parts from a Lexus SUV along the road where Lozano was killed.
After Meada was charged by police, Beers reminded state prosecutors that a ruling the Florida Supreme Court made four months earlier would destroy their case. Prosecutors dropped the charge.
The high court’s ruling involved a 2007 hit-and-run accident in Boca Raton when 15-year-old Nicholas Savinon was dragged for 90 feet under Zachariah Dorsett’s pickup truck. The Coconut Creek man didn’t stop and later told police he had no idea the teen had lost control of his skateboard and slipped under the passenger side of Dorsett’s truck. While Savinon survived, he suffered catastrophic injuries, according to court records.
In throwing out Dorsett’s conviction, justices unanimously agreed the law requires a driver to “willfully” leave the scene of accident. “A defendant cannot willfully, intentionally, or purposefully leave the scene of a crash without actually knowing that the crash occurred,” it ruled, noting that other states have similar laws.
While the Legislature could amend the law, Beer said he doubts a change would pass legal muster. He also thinks it would likely create more problems than it would solve.
“If you hit anything — a hog, a gator, a box — would you have to stop and jeopardize yourself on a dark road?” he asked. “That doesn’t make sense. It’s not rational.”
The Lozanos, however, believe it’s unfair that Meada escaped punishment, Fogg said. Their son was coming home from a party in celebration of the looming birth of a friend’s child. He had plans to start a youth baseball academy to share his love of the game.
“Their primary goal is getting the law changed,” the lawyer said.