The Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office has concluded its investigation into the traffic accident that claimed the life of Luka Balenovic on August 6, and for the family and friends of Balenovic, the results are upsetting. Gerardo Valdivia, the driver of the car that hit Balenovic's motorcycle, will be charged with a failure to yield the right of way and driving with a suspended license -- but not vehicular manslaughter.
"How this man is not being charged with some form of vehicular manslaughter is baffling," wrote Derek Malpass, a friend of Balenovic's, in an email to Riptide. "The courts have failed us all miserably, and it is so disgraceful to [Luka's] memory that his killer is being treated with such a meager slap on the wrist."
Though Balenovic's friends had been looking for a stiffer penalty for Valdivia, Ed Griffith, spokesman for the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office, told us Balenovic's death alone wasn't enough to garner a criminal charge.
"Motor vehicle crimes need to have wanton or willful disregard for the safety of others," Griffith says. "What happened here doesn't meet those legal standards."
Griffith told Riptide that, in order to qualify as a crime and not a traffic infraction, Valdivia had to have been acting in a way that put other drivers in danger. If he had been speeding or drunk behind the wheel, for example, more severe charges would have been filed. Griffith said that the SAO's investigation determined that Valdivia had not been driving at an excessive speed, and the incident report stated that Valdivia was not under the influence of any substance.
Although it is a crime to drive with a suspended license, first- or second-time offenses are usually considered misdemeanors. Valdivia's May charge was his first and only DWLS charge. The reason for the suspension also impacts whether driving with a suspended license is a misdemeanor or a felony. According to Griffith, Valdivia's license was initially suspended because he failed to show up for a court appearance in June, and not for any particular moving violation.
Investigators also determined, thanks to footage from a red-light camera nearby and from the incident report, that Valdivia had the green light when he made a left turn on NW 47th Avenue from NW Seventh Street, clipping the back of Balenovic's motorcycle as he did so.
Failure to yield when turning with a green light and facing the opposing vehicle is a moving violation that carries a punishment of three points on a license and a $60 fine.
Balenovic's friends aren't convinced that the punishment will have any impact.
"If the city or the courts would have done their job and served Valdivia with his outstanding warrants, he would have never been on the road," Malpass wrote. "His blatant disregard for the law is obvious, and who is to say that he isn't capable of doing this again?"
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Riptide tried to reach Valdivia at his home for comment but he didn't answer. His mother Celia had previously spoken to us, saying that the crash was an accident but declining to say much more.
Though Valdivia will escape felony charges in Balenovic's death, Malpass states that he and Luka's friends will continue to fight for justice. Jeff Liddle, who rode alongside Balenovic, put it bluntly.
"A life was taken through negligent behavior, and this shall not be looked upon lightly," he wrote to Riptide.