September 28, 2020
‘A slap on the wrist.’ Driver who killed Miami motorcycle officer won’t do any prison time.
 
 

 

Hours before her wedding, Elizabeth Sanchez visited the cemetery. Then, as she graced the aisle dressed in white, her brother walked alongside her — holding a folded dark blue uniform.

It belonged to her father, Miami Police Officer Jorge Sanchez, killed four years ago in a traffic crash.

“My heart was broken because I was not able to do this with him,” Elizabeth Sanchez tearfully recalled Wednesday during a virtual court hearing. “It was the closest feeling of having him there giving me away.”

Sanchez’s daughter spoke Wednesday as the driver who killed the veteran police officer pleaded guilty to vehicular manslaughter. The driver, Ronald Pla, lost control of his car — which hit over 100 miles per hour — when he suffered a seizure moments before the crash. 

As part of the plea deal, Ronald Pla won’t be going to prison. Instead, he agreed to spend two years on “community control,” a form of house arrest, plus 10 years of probation. He’ll also have to complete 200 hours of community service, and will have his driver’s license permanently revoked. 

“Mr. Pla has taken responsibility for his decision to drive an automobile while suffering from a medical condition that disqualifies him from driving,” said his defense attorney, Daniel Lurvey. “He certainly had no intent to cause harm and his sincere condolences are extended to Officer Sanchez’s family.”

The plea hearing — conducted via the video conferencing service Zoom because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic — concluded a sad chapter for the Miami police department and the Sanchez family.

Jorge Sanchez, a 53-year-old motorcycle police officer with a love for cars and cigars, was just 17 months from retirement. His daughter called Pla’s punishment “a slap on the wrist.”

“It’s not fair that Mr. Pla basically gets to walk away from this,” Elizabeth Sanchez said.

Pla, 29, did not apologize nor address the court.

Despite their reservations, the Sanchez family blessed the plea deal because it called for Pla to lose his ability to drive permanently.

The case was not a sure win at trial. Pla wasn’t drunk or drag racing. The crash happened because Pla has been diagnosed with a seizure disorder.

“The recklessness was not for the manner in which he drove; rather, it was for the fact that he chose to drive at all,” prosecutor Laura Adams wrote in a final memo on the case. “Although the doctor told him on numerous occasions that he should not drive a car unless he was seizure free for at least six months, the defendant disregarded the advice and chose to drive.”

Blood tests showed that Pla had indeed been taking his prescribed seizure medications.

The crash happened on Nov. 1, 2016, as Sanchez was on his Harley motorcycle, waiting at a red light on Southwest Eighth Street at 137th Avenue. Pla was driving his Infiniti G37 and suffered the seizure, causing his car to strike Sanchez from behind.

After hitting the motorcycle, the Infiniti spun into the intersection and into westbound traffic. It hit two other cars, which caused a chain reaction involving several other vehicles. In total, including the Infiniti and motorcycle, there were 10 vehicles impacted.

Pla was not charged until 2018. The plea deal was similar to one Pla rejected last year.

Officer Jorge Sanchez