In the early morning hours this past February Cesar Cepeda lost control of his pickup truck by the on-ramp at the intersection of the Dolphin Expressway and Florida’s Turnpike. He was able to move the vehicle onto a grassy area on the side of the highway. Unable to restart the vehicle, he called his father Jose for assistance. His father promptly arrived to help his son. As the two men were standing on the side of the road by their vehicles, another car veered off the highway, striking and killing the two of them.
The man who ran into the father and son then left the 2014 Camaro he was driving and took off with the father’s Chevy Equinox. The SUV was later found that same day abandoned in the town of Homestead.
DNA evidence left at the scene found in and on the suspect’s car matched a man named Earl Lewis, of Homestead and led to a manhunt that went on for nearly a month. The Florida Highway Patrol began their search for Lewis assisted by the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office as well as the U.S. Marshal’s Service.
During the investigation, FHP was able to locate the owner of the Camaro that plowed into the two men but that person was never considered to be a suspect in the crash. However, the owner of the car was able to provide police with a list of names of individuals who had access to his vehicle. Lewis was one of the men that appeared on that list.
A few weeks after the incident occurred, when the suspect was still at large, a spokeswoman for the victimized family made an emotional public appeal during a news conference at FHP headquarters; imploring the fugitive to turn himself in.
Josephine Sadelis-Cepeda who lost both her father-in-law and brother-in-law spoke to the public saying “I would say to whoever did this you should turn yourself in and let justice be done and bring peace to the family because of the harm that this tragedy has caused.” She went on to point out that there were now four children that have lost their fathers who would have provided for their daily needs who would now be growing up without them.
Ultimately Lewis was captured while hiding in a Holiday Inn located in Hialeah off the Palmetto Expressway. Upon his arrest he was charged with two counts of leaving the scene of an accident involving a fatality, and driving with a suspended license. He was also charged with grand theft, for stealing the older victim’s SUV to aid in his escape.
According to the lead investigator in the case, Lewis told him that he should have fled to Jamaica, but in court he denied he ever made that confession to the officer.
In March, at his appearance in Bond Court the judge was anything but sympathetic to Lewis by stating that he displayed a callous disregard for life by fleeing the scene of the crash. By law it is the obligation of a participant in such a case to remain at the scene, render all possible aid to any victims and provide information to authorities once they arrive. She accused him of reckless behavior and said “You caused the accident and killed two people and fled the scene in the victim’s vehicle.” She then set bail at $600,000. When Lewis heard the amount of the bail he placed forward open palms that were shackled with a zip tie and said to the judge, “well how can I make that?” The judge answered his complaint by saying “Well you have a chance to make it, the victims don’t. He also stated in a possible attempt for his defense that his car went out of control.
The judge also specified that in the event that Lewis can find a way to make bail he would have to wear a GPS ankle monitor, most likely based on the investigator’s comment that Lewis mentioned he should have left the country.
It was also revealed by court records that there was a fugitive warrant for Lewis originating from Broward County. Charges included second-degree attempted murder, robbery by sudden snatching, battery, possession of cannabis, resisting arrest with violence and tampering with physical evidence.
Lewis was being held at the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center and will be defended by an Assistant Public Defender who was appointed by the court.
Although the indication in this case may seem that the suspect is guilty, bear in mind that a trial must still be held or a plea deal agreed upon. It’s still the burden of those prosecuting the case to obtain a conviction. The fact that the primary victim in the case as well as the defendant both seemingly lost control of their vehicles in the same area could be a logical step in mounting his defense. If you, a family member or someone you know is charged with any type of vehicular crime, including one where a homicide occurred it’s imperative to hire a skillful criminal defense lawyer who is familiar with these types of charges at the earliest possible time near the inception of the proceedings.
Michael B. Cohen, Esq. is a Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Attorney who’s an expert in all types of charges related to vehicular crimes including vehicular homicide and/or manslaughter. His expertise as a former Assistant State Attorney for Broward County gives Mr. Cohen’s clients a clear advantage for obtaining a favorable outcome countering all charges alleged by the State of Florida. His prior work for the prosecution, before establishing his criminal defense firm to the public has given him a superior advantage that will result positively for those charged with crimes of any type who seek his help.
Nearly twenty years of outstanding private practice criminal defense in Fort Lauderdale, Miami, and the Palm Beaches as well as all neighboring counties in the surrounding areas of South Florida inclusive of his forty year career.