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A family attorney for a mother of six killed in a June crash said Cocoa police allowed an investigator for the driver, who had admitted she had been drinking, access to the vehicle while the department failed to conduct a standard review of the car’s black box until this week – some five months after the accident.
“Just yesterday, (Monday) the Cocoa police took steps to pull the car’s black box. The black box computer is vital in any traffic death investigation because it tells how fast the driver was going and whether she braked. A five-month delay is inexcusable. Electronic evidence may be lost,” said the family’s lawyer, Jessica J. Travis in a statement issued to FLORIDA TODAY.
Cocoa Police would not comment on the investigation but confirmed that they recently had obtained a warrant to pull data from the car that hit and killed Passion Lucas over the summer.
Travis was retained by the Lucas family Tuesday amid their growing concerns and frustrations over the agency’s handling of the investigation into the June 20 accident that killed Lucas while she walked from a hospital to a rehab clinic.
Of particular concern to the family is the fact that the driver of the car that hit Lucas, Suzanna Norris, has so far not been charged in the case even though she admitted drinking before the accident and police had her blood alcohol level tested.
Police records show that Norris was traveling northbound on East Industry Road towards Grissom Parkway about 2:20 a.m. Passion Lucas, heading for the rehab center where she was staying, was walking along the darkened road. Norris, say police investigators, “struck an unidentified object,” shattering her windshield and causing damage to the front of her vehicle, just north of the State Road 528 overpass.
According to Travis, while police failed to conduct a timely investigation, Norris’ attorney, Alan Landman, had hired an accident investigator to inspect the car that killed Passion Lucas. Travis said the investigator had been granted access to the vehicle by Cocoa police at the same time the Lucas family was trying with little success to get the agency to answer their questions about what happened to Passion.
“Passion Lucas’ family is shocked to hear that the DUI driver’s attorney has been allowed to prepare a defense before arrest,” said the family’s lawyer, Travis said in her statement.
Cocoa police would not comment directly on Travis’ remarks, but in a statement emailed to FLORIDA TODAY, Cocoa Police Chief Evander Collier said he was concerned by how the case has been handled by his agency.
“There are allegations being made in regards to this case and we take each one very seriously. We acknowledge gross errors were made in the handling of this case and when we learned of them, we took immediate action,” Collier said in his statement Wednesday.
“We are in the process of conducting an internal review into how this case was handled from the beginning. I can assure you we will conduct a thorough, fair, and unbiased investigation into each allegation in order to come to the right and just conclusion. This process takes time and will not be rushed,” the chief said.
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Until Travis was hired on Tuesday, Makita Lucas, the sister of the woman killed, said she couldn’t find a lawyer interested in taking the case. Instead, Makita Lucas had taken her frustrations to social media to question the lack of progress and information in the case.
Chief Collier has now met with Makita Lucas twice to explain his own concerns about the case and the way it has been handled by Traffic Homicide Investigator Benjamin Landis.
Landis filed an error-ridden second-degree misdemeanor citation to Norris for driving under the influence on Nov. 3. The citation failed to mention the traffic homicide, got the date of the accident wrong, and even issued the DUI on the wrong form. In an unusual move, Cocoa police had the citation withdrawn as investigators review the possible charges in the case.
Collier also had Landis removed from the case. He replaced Landis with another investigator and ordered an administrative review of the case.
Still, Travis said Passion Lucas’ family cannot understand how Norris has escaped arrest until now. She noted that Cocoa investigators have seemingly been willing to cooperate with Norris’ lawyer while ignoring the family’s questions, including how police took a blood sample of Norris right after the accident but did not charge her.
“It is their understanding that the Cocoa Police Department has the blood alcohol results confirming that the driver Suzanna Norris was intoxicated and the medical examiner’s report confirming that Passion died from blunt force trauma. Yet, Ms. Norris remains free and it appears that the Cocoa Police Department has been cooperating with her attorney,” Travis said.
An autopsy report, signed by Brevard County’s medical examiner this week, shows that Passion Lucas died from multiple blunt trauma. A blood alcohol test of Lucas showed a trace amount for Eutylone, a substance found in bath salts.
Passion Lucas had publicly talked about her struggles with substance abuse but was focused on getting better to be with her six children, her sister Makita Lucas said.
Norris’ lawyer Landman admitted that his client had been drinking earlier at a local restaurant but suggested that Passion Lucas, walking on the road in the dark, had jumped out in front of Norris’ car.
Travis rejected Landman’s allegation.
“It is insulting that the defense attorney suggested that Passion killed herself by jumping in front of the car. Passion left behind six young children and had a lot to live for,” Travis said.
Travis said the family is hoping for more information on the case.
“The Lucas family deserves transparency. Under Florida’s Constitution, they have the right to be involved and informed,” Travis said. “Passion Lucas and her family have been denied justice and it has made the grieving process impossible. Passion’s life mattered. We demand answers.”
J.D. Gallop is a Criminal Justice/Breaking News Reporter at FLORIDA TODAY. Contact Gallop at 321-917-4641 or email@example.com. Twitter: @JDGallop.
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This article originally appeared on Florida Today: Accident victim’s lawyer concerned over Cocoa police handling of case
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