Joyner pleads in ACE Classic golf cart hit-and-run crash

David Albers/Staff
- Estero resident Michael Joyner, center, leaves Collier Circuit Judge Fred Hardt's courtroom with his attorney, Jerry Berry, on Monday, Jan. 30, 2012, in Naples. Joyner, 54, pleaded no contest to charges surrounding a crash where an SUV hit a golf cart carrying three people in the parking lot of the Quarry residential community during the ACE Group Classic golf tournament in February 2010.

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David Albers/Staff - Estero resident Michael Joyner, center, leaves Collier Circuit Judge Fred Hardt's courtroom with his attorney, Jerry Berry, on Monday, Jan. 30, 2012, in Naples. Joyner, 54, pleaded no contest to charges surrounding a crash where an SUV hit a golf cart carrying three people in the parking lot of the Quarry residential community during the ACE Group Classic golf tournament in February 2010.

The driver in a hit-and-run crash at the 2010 ACE Group Classic golf tournament faces prison time after pleading no-contest to three charges Monday.

Michael Joyner, 54, of Estero, faces a maximum of 11 years in prison if sentenced consecutively on two felony charges and one misdemeanor count. Sentencing guidelines suggest a three-and-a-half-year prison term, but Collier Circuit Judge Fred Hardt can impose a punishment above or below the recommended term.

Joyner, whose trial was scheduled to start Monday, pleaded no contest to charges of leaving the scene of a crash involving injury, evidence tampering and reckless driving involving injury. The first two charges carry a five-year maximum prison sentence, while the reckless driving charge is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail.

Sentencing is scheduled for March 8.

The charges stem from a crash at the Quarry residential community in North Naples that put three people — Jack Justice, and David and Diane Schaefer — in the hospital with several broken bones.

Collier County sheriff’s officials said Joyner was driving a sport utility vehicle in the tournament parking lot when he collided with a golf cart driven by Justice and carrying the Schaefers. Using data retrieved from the SUV, investigators determined Joyner was driving 38 mph immediately before the crash, pushing the cart back about 80 feet, an arrest affidavit said.

Detectives identified Joyner as a suspect and located him two days after the crash. A red Chevrolet Tahoe with front-end damage was parked in his garage. The vehicle matched the description of a SUV seen leaving the scene by a witness.

Prosecutors originally charged Joyner with leaving the scene of a crash involving injury, but later added the evidence tampering and reckless driving involving injury charges.

Joyner didn’t speak at length during Monday’s hearing, only answering questions about whether he understood the terms of his plea agreement. His lawyer, Jerry Berry, declined to comment about the agreement.

Assistant State Attorney Mara Marzano said the three victims, some of whom live out-of-state, were aware of the plea agreement and might attend the March sentencing.

The victims have filed lawsuits against Joyner and tournament organizers. Justice’s civil lawyer, Mark Weinstein, released a statement about the plea on behalf of his client and the Schaefers.

“Mr. Justice and Mr. and Mrs. Schaefer, all of whom were almost killed that night and still face a lifetime of rehabilitation ahead, would like to thank the Sheriff’s Office and the prosecutors for their tireless and successful efforts to bring about justice in this tragic matter,” Weinstein said in the statement.

Joyner is accused in the lawsuit of negligence for causing the crash. Organizers are accused of failing to create a safe temporary parking lot.

Joyner has previously denied in civil court filings that he was behind the wheel of the SUV. Weinstein said criminal statutes require Joyner to drop his claim. Efforts to reach Joyner’s civil lawyer, Ronald Arend, were unsuccessful.

The lawsuits also seek damages from Allstate Insurance Company, for whom Joyner was an agent at the time of the crash. Allstate has denied responsibility, saying Joyner was an independent agent.

Weinstein said Allstate’s lawyers should drop that claim after Monday’s plea agreement because it was found that Joyner was entertaining Allstate clients at the golf tournament and made a charge to a company credit card.

“While there is no doubt the parking lot was badly designed and not lit, the effect of today’s plea on the civil suit is that Allstate will have to formally withdraw its untrue claim that its agent Mr. Joyner was not driving the car, and was not driving it negligently or recklessly as to cause injuries,” Weinstein said in the statement.

A lawyer for Allstate had filed a motion to end its involvement in the Justice lawsuit, but it was withdrawn Friday. Allstate officials didn’t respond to a request for comment about the impact of Monday’s plea on the lawsuits.

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