If you haven’t heard about last week’s tragic accident by now, there was a terrible accident on Interstate 75 north near Gainesville, FL resulting in the death of 11 people on Sunday January 29th. Many of those involved in the accident or near the scene of the described the horrific scene as an end of the world look and feel. It has been concluded by authorities in Florida that the accident precipitated from dense smoke that drifted across the road from a nearby brushfire over 62 acres of a field. It’s relatively easy to deduce that initially vehicles drove into the smoke, slowed down for safety and ultimately one after another they began to pile on top of one each other.
So how could this happen? Generally controlled or prescribed burns of an individual’s land is performed after notifying the State and allowing them to monitor the situation so as to avoid a wildfire. Officials know this dense smoke didn’t result from a controlled burn, nor did it result from lightning. All things considered, this was likely either caused by arson or a fire started negligently and allowed to rage out of control. If the State can make a case to show this was caused by an intentional burning, they will no doubt attempt to charge the allegedly responsible individual with arson in violation of Florida Statute 806.031(1) and (2) depending on the count and injury to the living victim. For those victims receiving minor injuries, the defendant would face a first degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 11 months, 29 days in a Florida county jail. Due to the fact there were very serious injuries, any defendant would face additional second degree felonies for Arson involving great bodily harm, permanent disability or permanent disfigurement for each of those individual victims. As harsh as these penalties are, any defendant involved is going to face felony murder charges as well pursuant to Florida Statute 782.04. In this particular instance felony murder very simply is the killing of an individual by a person in the perpetration of an arson. In other words, because an individual committed an arson and someone died, the individual can now face the death penalty or life imprisonment.
What if the person who set the fire wasn’t purposely trying to commit a crime? What if they were just very negligent in their actions and should have known that undertaking their actions could lead to very serious injury or death? Things could get a little better for the individual responsible for this tragedy if this is the case. The mere lack of an “intent” would make appropriate the charge or conviction of manslaughter per Florida Statute 782.07. If this is what they are either charged or convicted of they are facing a second degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in the Florida Department of Corrections for each victim that died in this tragedy.
Like anyone else, I sincerely hope this fire wasn’t set with the intent to commit a crime. If so, they need to be caught, charged, and convicted for a senseless crime that took the lives and health of so many.