Arrest made in golf cart hit-and-run at ACE Group Classic

The mangled golf cart is the result of a hit-and-run accident at The Quarry on Sunday night following the ACE Group Classic. This photo is courtesy of North Naples Fire Capt. Chuck Bacon.

The mangled golf cart is the result of a hit-and-run accident at The Quarry on Sunday night following the ACE Group Classic. This photo is courtesy of North Naples Fire Capt. Chuck Bacon.

Video from NBC-2

— It was Valentine’s Day evening when the dust settled on a North Naples parking lot revealing a crumpled golf cart that looked as though it had been in a crash. A red sport utility vehicle was driving away.

This was the scene described by a witness, Michael Surgen, in a taped interview with the State Attorney’s Office.

It happened the night of the ACE Group Classic golf tournament at the Quarry residential community on Immokalee Road.

Surgen had, just minutes before the crash, been riding in a red SUV with the man accused of causing the crash, Michael Joyner.

The two, among others, had been at the club house bar, where 25 minutes before the crash, Joyner signed a receipt for four beers. Joyner had just dropped Surgen off at his car.

At 7:14 p.m., a head-on crash with a red SUV sent three golf cart occupants flying. The golf cart had been pushed back about 80 feet.

The accounts of the night are according to a three-page affidavit signed by John Neiderhiser, a Collier County Sheriff’s Office investigator. The statement was filed in county court along with a warrant for Joyner’s arrest issued on Monday.

By Tuesday, Joyner, a 53-year-old insurance man, had turned himself in and was arrested on charges of leaving the scene of a crash with personal injury, a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

Joyner appeared via video from jail at a first hearing, which reduced his $50,000 bond by half.

At that hearing, Joyner’s attorney, Jerry Berry, asked Judge Mike Carr to reduce the amount needed to release his client from jail.

“We agree that there’s probable cause in this case,” Berry said. He went on to outline reasons why Joyner was not a flight risk: he owns a business, he has two grown children, he’s never been in trouble before. “I think $50,000 bond on a third degree felony is awfully high.”

The judge agreed and set bail for $25,000.

Joyner’s 5-foot 11-inch frame draped in an orange jumpsuit stood, hands behind his back, in the jail facility. His image was piped in and shown on a courtroom TV.

Joyner was expected to post bail Wednesday night, Berry said.

Neither Joyner nor his attorney said Joyner was driving the SUV the night of the crash, but officials had suspected Joyner almost immediately.

According to the affidavit, on the night of the crash, Joyner’s wife, Bonnie Joyner, “drew attention to her intoxication” at the club house where the couple had been and asked the club house staff to call her a taxi.

She had been on her cell phone saying her husband had just been in an accident and she needed a ride home, the report said.

“See, I told you I heard a thump and something happened,” she said, looking toward the emergency lights that had arrived at the accident scene, Neiderhiser reported.

Two days later, investigators traced her taxi-cab ride to the Joyner residence at 3729 Pino Vista Way, Estero, where the man suspected of being behind the wheel during the crash answered the door.

Neiderhiser asked to see the vehicle and Joyner, after calling his lawyer, opened his neighbor’s garage showing a 2007 red Chevrolet Tahoe with damage “consistent with those left at the scene of the crash,” the statement said.

The investigation showed that, at one time, part of the grill from the crash scene had been attached to Joyner’s vehicle and crash data retrieval from the car showed an “event with a vehicle speed of 38 mph.”

But reports have said a driver can’t be prosecuted without a “wheel witness,” someone who placed Joyner behind the wheel.

Sheriff’s spokeswoman Michelle Batten acknowledged the investigator still did not have such a witness. However, “It would be up to the State Attorney’s Office to determine the importance of the wheel witness,” she said.

That office’s spokeswoman, Samantha Syoen, said they believe they have the evidence they need to make the case.

“If the evidence is not there, we cannot agree to a warrant,” she said.

But it’s been more than eight months since the crash sent three people to the hospital.

The Sheriff’s Office submitted its request for a warrant in May. When asked why it has taken five months to sign off on the warrant, Syoen said the office had been working with the Sheriff’s Office to gather more information. She declined to specify what information had been lacking.

For Berry, the time lapse shows one thing.

“When it takes a long time, it means they have to piece the case together,” he said. Though he declined to say whether or not that boded well for his client.

Victim Jack Timothy Justice, then 51, who had been driving guests David and Diane Shaefer, 61 and 56 at the time, to their vehicle, could not be reached for comment. All three had been hospitalized for weeks and Justice was pieced back together with titanium rods in his legs and arm.

Justice eventually sued Joyner and others, including the golf event’s sponsor.

“Mr. Justice almost died,” said his attorney Mark Weinstein in an earlier report. “He’s lucky to be alive.”

Formal charges may be filed before or at Joyner’s arraignment schedule for 8:15 a.m. Nov. 29.

© 2010 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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