61ºF

Despite marijuana in his blood, no criminal charges for driver in deputy's fatal crash

Despite THC found in his system, driver faces only traffic citations

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Despite traces of the active ingredient of marijuana found in the blood of the driver who caused a crash that resulted in the death of Clay County Deputy Ben Zirbel 13 months ago, the Florida Highway Patrol found insufficient evidence to recommend prosecution.

Zirbel died after an agency motorcycle crashed into the trailer of a vehicle that pulled in front of him.

Last month, the FHP cited Stephen Schioppa for failure to yield in the August 2018 collision on Blanding Boulevard at Camp Francis Johnson Road. Troopers said Schioppa turned left into the path of Zirbel, who was on patrol at the time.

The 40-year-old deputy was thrown from the motorcycle after colliding with the trailer of Schioppa's pickup truck. He was rushed to Orange Park Medical Center, but did not survive.

Traffic homicide investigators spend months investigating the crash and interviewed more than a dozen witnesses. Blood tests found Schioppa had no alcohol in his system, but there were traces of THC, the active ingredient of marijuana. The final FHP report said Shoppe showed no pre-crash or post-crash signs of impairment and Dr. Bruce Goldberger, chief of forensic medicine and director of toxicology at the University of Florida's College of Medicine, recommended not filing criminal charges.

"Thus, there is insufficient evidence to charge Steven Schioppa with DUI manslaughter," the FHP report concludes.

Zirbel, a 12-year veteran of the Sheriff's Office, was survived by a wife and son. Earlier this year, his name was added to the National Fallen Law Officer's Memorial in Washington, D.C. The Sheriff's Office held a wreath-laying ceremony in his honor last month. 


About the Authors: