Unlicensed drivers caught driving away from court

Bradford County deputies stop drivers leaving scheduled court appearances

Author: Vic Micolucci, General assignment reporter, vic@wjxt.com
Published On: Jan 30 2014 04:47:24 PM EST   Updated On: Jan 30 2014 10:00:28 PM EST
STARKE, Fla. -

Something goes on every day around us that puts lives at risk, and most of us don't even know it.

Local deputies say there's an abundance of drivers on the road even though their driver's licenses are suspended or revoked.  While it may seem like a simple crime, police say these people are accounting for more and more crashes and many of them are responsible for causing accidents.

Todd Annis, a youth pastor and chaplain of the Baker County High School football team, was killed in 2011 in a accident caused by a young woman driving without a valid license.

Florida Highway Patrol troopers said 22-year-old Holly King's license was suspended when she struck the car Annis and his wife were in on Interstate 10.

"The at fault driver was driving on a suspended license and was actually pulled over two days before our accident and given a speeding ticket," said the victim's wife, Lauren Annis. "She {King} did have a suspended license at the time, but she was let go. Instead of being arrested, instead of having to go before a judge or anything, {police} just gave her a ticket and sent her on her way."

Holly King According to court records, King had 21 traffic tickets on her record. Prosecutors with the State Attorney's Office said King's license wasn't suspended because of the number of infractions, but because she didn't pay all of her tickets. To make matters worse, prosecutors said after the deadly crash, King kept driving, racking up four more citations. Yet she was never classified as a "habitual traffic offender."

"If the punishment would have been harsher or if they would have done something about it then, she may not have even been on the road... and my life would be totally different," said Annis.

According to Florida laws, it's usually up to the officer making the traffic stop to decide if someone will just get a ticket or go to jail if caught driving with a suspended license.

In Bradford County, Sheriff's deputies are opting for jail.

Channel 4's crew was given exclusive access when the Sheriff's Office launched Operation Safe Streets in November and December.

Bradford sting Undercover detectives watched from a nearby roof as people with suspended or revoked licenses left the County Courthouse in Starke after regularly scheduled hearings. Anyone with a suspended or revoked license who deputies saw get behind the wheel and turned the key were arrested.

"Everyone of which has been notified that their license was suspended prior to today," said Lt. George Konkel. "And they still took it upon themselves to show up to court, possibly on an unrelated offense, and they still drive away!"

Ironically, deputies said more than half the illegal drivers stopped had someone with a valid license in the passenger seat.

"See them switching right now?," one deputy radioed those in the surveillance detail when a driver switched with a passenger in the middle of the road. "They just switched! Go ahead and 10-50 (stop) him as soon as they pull off."

Konkel said there was no question that the people pulled over and arrested knew they weren't supposed to be behind the wheel. He said a judge likely notified them in court, an officer told them at a traffic stop, or they received a written notice a their doors.

"No doubt in my mind whatsoever that they knew ahead of time," said Konkel.

Operation Safe Streets ended with 13 arrests, and deputies hope many more people having second thoughts about driving when they're not supposed to.

Of the 13 people arrested by Bradford County deputies for driving without a license, here the status of the cases as of Jan. 30:
 1  Adjudicated guilty
 9  Charged, awaiting court hearing
 3  Dropped/case abandoned* 
* Some charges were dropped because defendants were charged with other crimes

"Our goal is to try to prevent this from happening," said Konkel. "So beware. We can be anywhere."

Channel 4 reached out to those arrested during the sting. Some were not home, some did not answer the door, and others declined to comment.

Long-time State Farm Insurance agent Matt Carlucci sees everyday how unlicensed drivers affect us all financially.

"People who don't have a drivers license, in all likelihood they don't have any insurance," said Carlucci.

He estimates 20 to 30 percent of people on the road don't have a license for some reason. If they hit or hurt you, you and your insurance company will be on the hook financially.

The damage, in Florida alone, he says, is likely hundreds of millions of dollars.

"Anytime somebody breaks the law, it costs money to law-abiding citizens. And it costs you to buy uninsured motorist protect yourself from people that will carry responsible insurance to take care of their fellow man," Carlucci said.

Todd Annis' family is pushing for a stricter crackdown on people who drive when they shouldn't.

"Their license is suspended for a reason," said Lauren Annis.

Both Todd's widow and mother-in-law say the laws are too loose and everyone's suffering because of it. They said they are reaching out to lawmakers and those who prosecuted Holly King, telling Channel 4 they've had many conversations with State Attorney Angela Corey, who supports their cause.

Lauren Annis said she feels the legal system failed her because the laws weren't strict enough. Her mother agrees.

"Change the law," said Barbara O'Neal. "Because if we don't, there will be someone else sitting here in our space doing the very same thing, pleading for the laws to be changed."

Annis' family members want mandatory jail time to force unlicensed drivers off the streets.

Florida laws for people caught knowingly driving with suspended or revoked licenses who are not habitual traffic offenders:
  • First conviction: Guilty of a misdemeanor of the second degree
  • Second conviction: Guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree
  • Third or subsequent conviction: Guilty of a felony of the third degree
Any person whose driver’s license has been revoked and is considered a habitual offender and who drives any motor vehicle upon the highways of this state while such license is revoked is guilty of a felony of the third degree.

King, now 24-years-old, pleaded guilty in September 2013 to driving with a suspended license in the crash that Annis. It was her second conviction on the same charge. She's serving one year in jail and is scheduled to be released in September 2014. The judge recommended her license be suspended for an additional 10 years.

After her sentencing hearing, King's family denied Channel 4's requests for interview to hear their side of the story. Her defense attorney, Mark Barnett, also said he had no comment when he was approached outside of the courthouse.

States provide databases to check to check the status of your license:
State of Florida | State of Georgia

If you know of someone driving on a suspended or revoked driver's license, notify your county's sheriff's office or the highway patrol.