TAVARES, Fla. --
Lake County has agreed to spend money for a lawyer to fight a firefighter's traffic ticket.
The firefighter was involved in a fatal crash on Florida's Turnpike on Christmas Day 2009. The crash has already led to two pending lawsuits. Some believe the lawsuits can be thwarted if the firefighter can beat the traffic ticket, but the county fire department will have to prove the Florida Highway Patrol ticketed the wrong person.
ON THE SCENE:
On the Turnpike, there's a cut-through a few miles north of Clermont where emergency vehicles can make a U-turn. It was at that cut-through on Christmas morning of 2009 that a small SUV rear-ended a Lake County firetruck. State troopers cited firefighter Brian Dimond for impeding traffic. The county has now hired a lawyer to help Dimond beat the ticket.
"Is there any fear the county could end up getting sued if he doesn't win on this ticket?" Channel 9 reporter Berndt Petersen asked.
"Actually, there's already a notice of litigation in this case," Interim County Manger Sandy Minkoff responded.
There are actually two notices, because a Titusville woman riding in the SUV died from her injuries. The estate of 88-year old Virginia Sellitto has notified the county of its intention to sue.
When the crash happened, the fire truck was trying to make a U-turn to race to a traffic accident. While state law requires drivers following emergency vehicles to stay back 500 feet, the driver of the SUV was not cited. The county will pay $750 to the attorney who will try to help the firefighter beat the ticket; it could cost much more to defend a likely lawsuit.
"Does the county pick up that tab?" Berndt Petersen asked.
"Yes, the county provides a defense for litigation, not only for its employees, but the county as a whole," Minkoff said.
Dimond has been with the department nearly three years and has stayed on active duty since the accident.
State troopers say all three occupants of the SUV that rear-ended the fire truck, including the victim who died, were not wearing seat belts.
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