Haas delivers keynote at MADD Dinner, two ASAs are recognized

Haas delivers keynote at MADD Dinner, two ASAs are recognized

State Attorney Brian Haas delivered the keynote speech Tuesday, Aug. 15, at the MADD Polk County Law Enforcement and Prosecutors Recognition Dinner where two of our attorneys were honored.

Haas spoke about how proud he is to live in a community where law enforcement both take DUI and impaired driving cases seriously. Without the dedication from law enforcement to put together solid DUI cases, our prosecutors would not be able to consistently secure convictions.

Following the dinner, Felony Prosecutor Amy Smith and Misdemeanor Director Stacie Kaylor were awarded for their outstanding work handling DUI cases.

Lake Wales man guilty of attempted second-degree murder after shooting at truck

SENTENCING UPDATE: Lake Wales man sentenced to 30 years for attempted second-degree murder

John Decesare was facing a minimum of 20 years in prison after being convicted in July of attempted second-degree murder, shooting into an occupied vehicle and discharging a firearm from a vehicle.

John Decesare, 74, of Lake Wales.

A judge imposed a sentence of 30 years on Decesare in his sentencing hearing Friday morning.

On Nov. 4, 2014, Decesare fired three rounds into a vehicle, attempting to kill the driver. The victim, Robert Daniel, was not injured in the shooting.

When law enforcement arrived on scene, Daniel told them he’d never seen the black corvette before. But he did tell them it wasn’t uncommon for him to have incidents with a motorcycle rider in the early mornings when he drove to work.

The man, who rode a black motorcycle with three headlights, would ride alongside his work truck, pull in front of him and slow down. He never spoke to the rider or antagonized him in any way, but he continued encountering the man on his way to work.

FDLE testing proved that the bullet holes and projectiles from Daniel’s truck matched the firearm deputies found in Decesare’s motorcycle.

When questioned, Decesare admitted he was involved in the shooting. He told deputies he was driving his corvette, and the other driver was in a truck.

Decesare told deputies in a taped statement that he felt the truck driver was tormenting him each time they crossed paths while he was on his bike.

“I got sick of it,” Decesare said in the statement. “I thought I’d just scare him off, put a couple bullets in his fender, teach him a lesson. … I didn’t shoot to kill him.”

“Why fire at least three rounds if you’re just trying to scare someone?” Daugustinis asked jurors in the July trial. “It’s just not reasonable to believe. He was intentionally shooting at driver side door knowing there was a driver on the other side of that door. … The defendant’s actions and intent that day showed ill will, hatred, spite and evil intent.”

Jurors found Decesare guilty July 12 after only 25 minutes of deliberation.

Carlos Ojeda, right, gets fingerprinted August 17 after being sentenced to life in prison.

SENTENCING UPDATE: Bus driver who molested special needs children sentenced to life

Carlos Ojeda used candy to lure his victims to the front of his bus and sexually abuse them.

Carlos Ojeda, right, gets fingerprinted August 17 after being sentenced to life in prison.

Ojeda, 74, who had been a bus driver for special needs children since 2007, chose four little girls who had intellectual disabilities and behavioral issues, knowing they would be less likely to tell anyone else what he had done. Two of the girls he chose struggled with verbal communication.

But on April 8, 2016, another student on the bus saw Ojeda touch two of the girls, and he reported it to his counselor.

Ojeda was questioned by law enforcement and admitted to touching a total of four children on his bus, dating back to 2013. He was charged with four counts of lewd molestation.

At Ojeda’s sentencing hearing August 17, Assistant State Attorney Mikaela Perry played the video footage from Ojeda’s bus for Judge Roddenbery.

The video shows Ojeda getting a victim’s attention with candy, coaxing her to the front of the bus and restraining her as he touched her inappropriately.

One of the victims’ fathers addressed the judge, asking him to sentence Ojeda to the max.

“We trusted him with our little girl,” he said. “I would like him to pay for what he did.”

Another parent wrote the judge a letter.

“He took part of her innocence and our tranquility,” the letter read. “He damaged our girl.”

Perry reminded the court that this was every parent’s worst nightmare.

“He was in a position to take care of them. Instead of protecting them and keeping them safe, he did the most horrible thing he could do to a little girl,” she said. “He deserves not a day less than life in prison for what he did to these kids. He deserves it for every single little girl he took advantage of.”

Carlos Ojeda stands in front of Judge Roddenbery during his sentencing hearing August 17. Roddenbery sentenced Ojeda to life in prison on all four counts.

Roddenbery sentenced Ojeda to life on all four counts.

After the sentencing hearing, State Attorney Brian Haas said he was pleased with the life sentence.

“The children victimized by Ojeda will suffer from this for the rest of their lives,” Haas said. “It is most appropriate that Ojeda will also serve a life sentence and will never hurt another child.”

Before leaving the courtroom, Ojeda apologized to the families.

Man who strikes, kills motorcyclist guilty of driving without a license

JURY VERDICT: Man who strikes, kills motorcyclist guilty of driving without a license

Albino Contreras drifted into oncoming traffic and struck a motorcyclist, severing his leg and throwing him from his bike into a canal.

Albino Contreras, 55.

David Szewczykowski, 68, of Davenport, went into cardiac arrest and died before paramedics could transport him to the hospital. At the time of the crash, Contreras had not been issued a Florida driver’s license.

A jury found Contreras guilty Aug. 10 of driving without a valid license, resulting in death or serious injury. He will be sentenced September 28.

Assistant State Attorney Jennifer Van Der Burgh recounted the fatal crash on May 3, 2016.

Szewczykowski was driving on Dean Still Road when Contreras drove his car into the opposite lane, colliding with the motorcycle. Szewczykowski was thrown from his motorcycle and landed in a water-filled canal.

Passersby who saw the aftermath of the crash got out of their vehicles to help while first responders made their way to the scene.

Alan Akouka and Curtis Barnes saw Szewczykowski submerged in the water and jumped in to help pull him to the shore and hold his head above the water. Initially, Szewczykowski wasn’t responsive, but he slowly started talking about how the car came at him and how his leg didn’t feel right.

Akouka and Barnes stayed with him until paramedics arrived. Polk County firefighter Will Wilson was one of the first medics to reach Szewczykowski.

By that point, Wilson said, Szewczykowski was conscious, alert and in excruciating pain. They pulled him from the water to see that his left leg had a partial amputation.

“He was in severe distress with components of his body starting to shut down,” Wilson said, pausing to regain his composure as he recalled the incident. “The helicopter was landing when he went into cardiac arrest.”

Assistant State Attorney Jennifer Van Der Burgh tells jurors during closing
arguments August 19 that the victim would not have died if Contreras had
not been driving. He faces nearly eight years in prison.

Szewczykowski was pronounced dead upon his arrival to the hospital.

The defense claimed the crash was an accident and that it was not proof that Contreras was being careless or negligent while driving. Because he did not flee after the crash and fully cooperated with law enforcement, the defense argued there was no way to prove Contreras was careless or negligent.

Van Der Burgh told jurors in her closing statements that Contreras’ actions proved just that.

“The point of impact was in David’s lane. The crash reconstruction proves that,” she said. “How else do you explain a vehicle ending up on the other side of the road if not for careless and negligent conduct?”

The defense also argued that it wouldn’t have made a difference if Contreras had a license – that it wouldn’t have changed the outcome. But Van Der Burgh said that the entire incident would have been avoided if Contreras had not been driving.

“If he’d honored the laws of Florida by not driving without having a license, he would not have been on the road that day. If he was not on the road that day, David would still be here,” Van Der Burgh said. “Come back with the only verdict that makes sense, which is guilty.”