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Driver pleads no contest in crash that killed Clay deputy

Court fines driver $1,000 and suspends his license for 6 months

Clay County Deputy Ben Zirbel as injured Sunday in an on-duty motorcycle crash.
Clay County Deputy Ben Zirbel as injured Sunday in an on-duty motorcycle crash.

ORANGE PARK, Fla. – The driver cited in the 2018 crash that killed a Clay County deputy was found guilty Friday after pleading no contest to a traffic infraction.

The judge presiding over the case handed down a six-month suspension of Stephen Schioppa’s license and ordered him to pay a $1,000 fine after finding him guilty of failure to yield to oncoming traffic in the wreck that resulted in the death of Deputy Ben Zirbel.

Schioppa was cited last August, nearly one year after the Aug. 19, 2018, collision in Orange Park.

Troopers said Schioppa was behind the wheel of a pickup truck headed north on Blanding Boulevard about 11 a.m. that day as Zirbel’s agency motorcycle traveled southbound. The vehicles collided as the pickup turned left onto Camp Francis Johnson Road. Zirbel, 40, was thrown from his bike on impact.

The deputy was taken to Orange Park Medical Center with critical injuries, but he did not survive.

Schioppa originally entered a plea of not guilty in the case, but he changed his plea on Friday.

Pleading no contest does not mean the driver admits guilt, but rather that the plea is in his best interest.