OKEECHOBEE — A former council member for the City of Okeechobee was sent to jail Wednesday after a six-member jury found him guilty of DUI and leaving the scene of an accident.
Devin R. Maxwell, 43, was sentenced immediately after being found guilty of driving under the influence with property damage, reckless driving causing property damage with alcohol a contributing factor and leaving the scene of an accident with damage to attended property.
Circuit Court Judge Sherwood Bauer sentenced Maxwell to sixty days in the Okeechobee County Jail on the DUI and leaving the scene charges, with those sentences to run concurrently. He will also have to pay a $2,000 fine, his driver’s license will be suspended for one year, he will have to serve 10 months on probation and pay all court costs and fees.
Even though all of the charges are misdemeanors, Judge Bauer presided over the Sept. 30 one-day jury trial because County Judge Jerald Bryant had recused himself.
Assistant State Attorney Ashley Albright said even though Maxwell, a local attorney, was charged with and convicted of reckless driving, he could not be adjudicated on that charge.
He said driving under the influence and reckless driving are considered the same act and, because of that, Maxwell could only be convicted on one of those charges.
Maxwell was arrested July 15, 2014, after he wrecked his red 2013 Mercedes on July 4 then fled the scene on foot. The single-car accident occurred around 2:20 a.m. in the area of S.W. 21st Street and S.W. Sixth Avenue after Maxwell had left the Brahma Bull Restaurant and Lounge, 2405 U.S. 441 S.E.
Referring to video from the restaurant/lounge, Mr. Albright reminded the jury in his closing statement that Maxwell was seen drinking around 2 a.m. He also reminded the jury Maxwell was charged with impairment and not intoxication.
“We know he was drinking. We know he was impaired,” said the prosecutor, referring to the man’s “staggering” a couple of times. “Is he falling down drunk? No. Is he impaired? Yes.”
Lisa Glover, a bartender at the Brahma Bull, told the jury she remembered serving a whiskey “neat” to Maxwell and seeing another bartender also serve him a whiskey over ice.
When Mrs. Glover was asked by Stuart defense attorney Robert J. Watson if his client was impaired, the bartender replied: “I don’t believe he was.”
However, another woman testified to seeing Maxwell driving erratically shortly before the early morning crash.
Local hairdresser Teresa Aguilar testified she and a friend were in the Brahma Bull parking lot because her brother had called her and asked for a ride home.
She explained to the jury how she witnessed Maxwell pull out of the parking lot then go across both lanes of the two-lane highway and into the grass along the shoulder of the highway.
Mrs. Aguilar said he was not speeding but made the turn “at a normal turning speed.”
She then followed him briefly on U.S. 441 S.E. as he was heading toward town and she told the jury how he was driving in the middle of the highway.
Joseph Graisbery, 38, testified he “… heard a boom that sounded like a car crash” and when he walked out of his S.W. 21st Street home he saw the red Mercedes in a ditch across the street from his home.
He testified to seeing a man behind the wheel who he later recognized as Maxwell, and he asked if the man was all right. Maxwell, he continued, was fully conscious and was wearing his seat belt.
Mr. Graisbery told Mr. Albright he didn’t know Maxwell personally, but recognized his face. He then introduced himself to the driver, but Maxwell did not tell Mr. Graisbery his name.
“His body language and motor skills were abnormal,” testified Mr. Graisbery. “In my opinion, he was intoxicated.”
Although, under cross examination by Mr. Watson, Mr. Graisbery said he did not detect an odor of alcohol on Maxwell.
Mr. Graisbery returned to his home to call 9-1-1 but when he went back to the Mercedes, Maxwell was gone.
Not long after that Sergeant Belen Reyna and Detective Jack Boon, both from the Okeechobee City Police Department, arrived on the scene. Soon, both of them along with other police officers and deputies from the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO) began scouring the area for Maxwell.
Several citizens in the area joined in the search.
“We were afraid he might be in the ditch. We didn’t know what was going on,” Preston Croslyn told the jury. “We circled around Seventh Avenue then back up Fifth Avenue.”
Mr. Croslyn, 29, said when he heard the missing driver was Maxwell, he drove his golf cart in the direction of Maxwell’s home on S.W. Seventh Avenue.
The police also went to the Maxwell home, but Detective Boon said Maxwell’s wife, Elizabeth Maxwell, would not allow him into their home to look for her husband.
The Maxwells have since divorced.
After the jury had rendered their decision Wednesday afternoon, Maxwell sat stoically at the defense table as Mr. Albright detailed his less than stellar driving history.
The prosecutor told Judge Bauer that Maxwell’s driving record consisted of:
• a 1995 DUI arrest in Martin County where he refused to submit to a blood-alcohol test. That arrest was later reduced to reckless driving.
• a 1997 DUI arrest in Georgia that was eventually dropped.
• and, four speeding tickets — the latest, of which, came in August of 2015.
He then asked the judge to sentence the local attorney to 120 days in jail to be followed by eight months probation.
“Your prior record, even if older, is concerning. There’s no question about that,” said Judge Bauer.
“Citizens were looking for you because they were concerned. But, you were trying to avoid responsibility,” continued the judge, referring to Maxwell’s leaving the scene. “That bothers me more than the DUI.”
After handing down the sentence, Judge Bauer ordered OCSO deputies to take custody of Maxwell and take him to jail.
It was now time for him to take responsibility for what transpired on that Independence Day.
Maxwell, who was on the city council at the time of his arrest, lost his bid for reelection in November 2014, receiving only 9 percent of the votes cast.
Eric Kopp is a staff writer for the Okeechobee News