Cassandra Diane Smith has been convicted for driving under the influence of alcohol and causing the death of Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Christopher Taylor.
Smith was found guilty as charged of DUI Manslaughter, Vehicular Homicide, and two counts of DUI – Damage Person/Property. The jury returned the guilty verdict this afternoon following a four-day trial in Charlotte County.
Assistant State Attorneys Martin Stark and Mara Marzano, of the State Attorney’s Office Traffic Homicide Unit, prosecuted the case.
“I am very happy with the verdict. We are another step closer to getting justice for Chris. I want to thank the State Attorney’s Office for all their hard work in prosecuting this case. My thoughts and prayers are with Chris’ family and all his family here at the Sheriff’s Office as we enter this Christmas season,” said Charlotte County Sheriff Bill Prummell.
The crime happened on November 22, 2022, at approximately 8:44 p.m. Charlotte County Sheriff’s Deputy Christopher Taylor was conducting a traffic stop on I-75, near mile marker 163, in the shoulder of the northbound lane. He was standing in front of his fully marked Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office patrol vehicle, a Ford Explorer SUV, with the emergency lights
activated. The Honda Civic he stopped, was parked on the shoulder of the interstate, on the grass, near the patrol vehicle. Both Deputy Taylor and the citizen, a Punta Gorda man, were standing in between the vehicles talking.
Witnesses indicated that a Jeep Wrangler traveled across three lanes of traffic and rotated clockwise towards the roadside where the traffic stop was being conducted. Smith’s jeep slammed into the parked patrol car, causing both vehicles to rotate and hit Deputy Taylor and the other driver. Deputy Taylor was fatally injured and the other driver was hurt. Other motorists immediately stopped to render aid.
A roadside witness told law enforcement that Smith seemed carefree and impaired. A responding Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) Trooper noticed a strong odor of alcohol on Smith and an inability of Smith to speak clearly – both of which are strong cues of impairment. Smith’s blood alcohol level was .258, more than three times the legal limit of .08.
Upon seizure of Smith’s vehicle, law enforcement confiscated four empty bottles of alcohol. FHP obtained video from a convenience store of the defendant buying alcohol a half hour prior to the crash. That specific alcohol was found under the Jeep at the crash scene and a straw in the can was tested as evidence and confirmed to have the defendant’s DNA on it.
“My heart goes out to the family, friends, and law enforcement family, of Deputy Taylor. The defendant’s decision to drive under the influence of alcohol with a blood alcohol limit three times the legal limit, ended the life of a man who dedicated himself to serving and protecting our community. I want to thank the Charlotte County Jury for their careful attention during
this trial. I also want to commend the Florida Highway Patrol for their exemplary investigation and the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Deputies who responded and tried to save the life of Deputy Taylor at such an awful and upsetting crime scene,” said State Attorney Amira Fox.
Sentencing is scheduled for February 1, 2024.
Samantha Syoen – Communications Director, State Attorney’s Office