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Jury convicts man in deadly wreck


PANAMA CITY — Though there was no physical evidence to show Joseph Acoff was driving and involved in the crash that killed Filip Drozd, it took jurors less than an hour to find him guilty as charged of five felonies.

Assistant State Attorney Bob Sombathy played jurors audio recordings of phone calls Acoff made in the Bay County Jail after his arrest in which Acoff said he believed he would be charged with driving under the influence and that no one else was in the car with him that night. He also said he knew Drozd had died as a result of the July 22, 2012, crash.

“We have a very strong circumstantial case here,” Sombathy told Judge Brantley Clark during arguments about whether the jury would be allowed to hear the phone calls.

Acoff’s attorney, Devin Collier, asked Clark to prevent the prosecution from playing the calls, citing case law that essentially says a defendant’s confession cannot be the only evidence against them. Clark agreed the evidence was all circumstantial, but it was strong enough for him to rule against Collier.

Panama City Beach police arrested Acoff after they found him sleeping in the stairwell of an apartment complex in the hours after the crash. Investigators took a blood sample that showed his blood-alcohol content to be 0.17 four hours after the crash.

Sombathy showed the jury video from a hotel near the scene of the crash on Back Beach Road (U.S. 98) that showed Acoff walking into the lobby about 15 minutes after the crash and calling a taxi. The cab driver who took him to the apartment complex told the jury Acoff smelled of alcohol that night.

Collier highlighted the lack of physical evidence in his closing argument Tuesday afternoon. After the jury returned its verdict, he thanked the jury and expressed his sympathy for Drozd’s family.

“I believe that the jury returned a verdict that was difficult in a difficult case,” Collier said. “We do have sympathy for the family, and we do give our condolences to the family.”

Drozd’s mother traveled from the Czech Republic to attend the trial. She doesn’t speak English, but speaking on her behalf, interpreter Nikola Kwiatek said Drozd’s mother felt the verdict was fair and thanked Sombathy and Assistant State Attorney Megan Teeple and State Attorney’s Office staff, as well as the police who worked on the case.

“My mother is happy with the decision, and thank you to all these guys working this case, and thank you to beach police,” Kwiatek said. “Her life is completely changed.”

Clark revoked Acoff’s bond and ordered bailiffs to take him into custody after the trial. He is scheduled for a sentencing hearing for June 6.

Acoff was convicted of DUI manslaughter, leaving the scene of a crash involving death, vehicular homicide and two counts of DUI causing serious bodily injury for the injuries Pavel Drozd, Filip Drozd’s father, and Pavol Vydrozd sustained in the crash. Sombathy said sentencing guidelines call for a minimum sentence of 20 years.

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