Arrest made in hit-and-run that left motorcyclist in critical condition

By Tarik Minor, Anchor-reporter, tminor@wjxt.com
Elizabeth Berry, Evening assignment manager, beth@wjxt.com
Published On: Aug 20 2014 12:06:27 PM EDT
Updated On: Aug 20 2014 09:38:04 PM EDT

New information about a 50-year-old man who police have arrested in a hit and run Tuesday in Brentwood. The suspect's driving record shows he was driving on a suspended license. Carlton DeCosta is accused of colliding with a motorcycle getting out of his SUV, looking at the victim and then driving away.
The motorcycle rider, Jeffrey Morrill, is hospitalized.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

Police have arrested a 50-year-old man with a suspended driver's license in the hit-and-run crash in Brentwood on Tuesday that left a 31-year-old motorcyclist in critical condition.

The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office said Carlton DeCosta is charged with leaving the scene of an accident that caused a serious injury. A police spokesman on Wednesday identified the victim as Jeffrey Morrill, adding that he was "expected to not make it."

If Morrill dies of his injures, additional charges would be filed against DeCosta.

The crash happened at Main and East 27th streets about 4:40 p.m. Morrill was riding north on Main Street and a green Jeep Cherokee was headed south. Police said the Jeep tried to turn left onto East 27th Street into the path of the approaching motorcycle.

Surveillance video from a business at that intersection obtained by News4Jax shows the motorcycle striking the Jeep in the right passenger-side door.

"They say the guy flew in the air, almost as high as the traffic light, and when he came down he hit the truck that hit him and then hit the ground, and he wasn't moving," said witness Sharol Haire.

Police said DeCosta stopped, got out and looked at the motorcyclist on the ground, then got back in the Jeep and drove away, east on 27th Street.

"I hate to see anything like that happen, especially right in front of my (tire) shop," said Steve Landers, who had the surveillance video.

Witnesses told News4Jax that Morrill was wearing a helmet, but when he hit the Jeep, he went airborne and then slid across the road. They said officers responded quickly and performed CPR on Morrill until he was transported to the hospital.

The Jeep, described as an older model Jeep Grand Cherokee, was found later by police, who confirmed DeCosta's arrest Wednesday.

According to a police report, DeCosta borrowed the Jeep from his sister, and minutes after the crash, he called her to tell her to report it stolen. When police recovered the Jeep, he called her back to say never mind, according to the report.

At about 6 a.m. Wednesday, DeCosta and his sister showed up at the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and he obtained a lawyer.

News4Jax dug into Decosta’s past Wednesday night and found that he has dozens of traffic citations dating back to 1991. Decosta has been caught speeding, recklessly driving, running stop signs and hasn’t had a valid Florida driver’s license since 2004.

In 2008, Decosta was sentenced to four years in prison after he was found guilty of aggravated assault.

News4Jax spoke with attorney Gene Nichols Wednesday night about the potential charges Decosta could face. As of July 1, people who leave the scene of an accident face an automatic four years in prison.

"At the time, he had a decision to make, and unfortunately he made a poor decision," said Nichols. "Is there the potential that if he were to stay he would face substantial punishment, not only because of his background and having a suspended driver’s license? Yes. That being said, would the State Attorney’s Office not come down on him as hard as they are about to come down on him? Absolutely."

Nichols told News4Jax that leaving the scene is never acceptable, but said there are reasons why people do it.

"Typically people leave the scene of an accident like that for two reasons. One, because they have an automatic response of flight. It's what our body does," Nichols said. "I've represented people whose body just doesn't know better and they are scared to death. The other reason, of course, is if somebody knows they caused the death of another or they were impaired."

Nicholas said if it's found that DeCosta's sister did report her Jeep stolen, she could also be looking at a first-degree misdemeanor, and the potential punishment doesn't stop there.

"The law is very clear that when you own a vehicle -- when you have put, as the law calls an instrumentive death, which a vehicle is out of the stream of commerce and you let someone else drive it -- if an accident happens, the owner is responsible," said Nichols.