Police arrested UM sophomore Spencer P. Kushner in the early morning hours of Oct. 20 after he collided with a cyclist on the 3700 block of Oak Avenue in Coconut Grove.
Lt. Bill Schwartz of the Miami-Dade Police Department said Kushner, 19, was driving his 2000 Jaguar while under the influence of drugs and alcohol at around 12:40 a.m. when he struck Anthony Mitchell, 48, as he was riding his bicycle.
Kushner drove off, but was soon apprehended after drivers who witnessed the accident led police to him. He was later charged with leaving the scene of an accident involving injury or death as well as for a DUI where injuries occurred, Schwartz said.
Paramedics transferred Mitchell to Jackson Memorial Hospital’s Ryder Trauma Center. At the time of publication he remained in extremely critical condition.
The charges against Kushner are third-degree felonies, which carry a sentence of five years each if he is convicted. Schwartz said the charges would be upgraded to second-degree felonies if Mitchell dies as a result of his injuries, and these would carry a of 15-year sentence each.
In response to Kushner’s actions, Schwartz said that the incident could have played out a lot differently if Kushner had remained at the scene.
“He took an accident and turned it into a whole lot of trouble for himself,” Schwartz said.
Four UM students who were riding in the car with Kushner fled the scene on foot before the police arrived, an action which Schwartz found puzzling.
“It was more of a moral issue than a legal one that these students would leave,” he said. “They weren’t driving the car, so there was no culpability there – it was just a matter of police having a right to know what happened so that we can make our case.”
The students, three men and one woman, turned themselves into police this week to give their statements regarding the accident. Schwartz said police would not release the students’ names since no charges were being brought against them.
Both the Dean of Students office and the Office of Student Affairs are looking into the situation, but Dr. Patricia A. Whitely, vice president for Student Affairs, declined to comment on any possible sanctions Kushner may face, noting that it would be inappropriate to comment on an open case.
Gregory Singleton, associate dean of students and director of judicial affairs, also declined to comment on any possible disciplinary action against Kushner, but did have thoughts on student drinking and driving in general.
“Anyone [who] drinks and drives is putting not only themselves at risk but potentially the lives of other people,” he said.
Nanette Vega, assistant dean of students, said in a previous interview with The Miami Hurricane that the university does not tolerate underage drinking on or off campus and that violations of the school’s alcohol beverage policy are handled on a case-by-case basis. Vega also said that the penalty(s) a student incurs depends on the severity of the violation.
Some students noted that transportation to and from Coconut Grove is usually a risky ordeal.
“I’ve never known anybody who got hurt by a drunk driver, but I think that a lot of people drive to and from the Grove drunk thinking that nothing like this is going to happen to them,” sophomore Mathew Powell said.
“This whole situation is an eye-opener and people need to find safe rides to and from there. Maybe the university should have the buses run later run later and more often throughout the week.”
The Dept. of Parking and Transportation Services currently runs the Ibis Ride shuttles to and from Coconut Grove from 8 p.m. to 3:30 a.m. Thursday through Saturday nights.
Other students hoped that the community would learn from Kushner’s mistakes.
“I think events like these should be taken very seriously,” sophomore David Birenbaum said. “More people need to really begin to act more responsibly when they go out to party without a designated driver, especially if people are driving under the influence.”
Marina Nazir may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.