Driver avoids sentence 3 years after causing deadly crash

Daniel Lightsey has not performed required community service, records show

FROSTPROOF, Fla. – Three years after a judge ordered Daniel Lloyd Lightsey to perform community service for causing a deadly crash by driving carelessly, court officials have seen no evidence the driver has completed any of his sentence.

When a motorist fails to abide by the sanctions of a non-criminal traffic citation, the court clerk's office is supposed to notify the state to suspend his or her driver's license.

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However, a News 6 investigation found Lightsey's driving privilege remained valid, despite his failure to perform the community service component of his careless driving sentence.

"No one should have to go through the loss of a family member and then have to make sure that the person who took them pays the penalty for that," said Marcia Waldron, whose 76-year-old mother, Martha Jackson, was killed in the vehicle crash.  “And this is a pathetic penalty.”

Lightsey, 23, declined to answer questions from News 6 about the fatal collision and his failure to comply with the court-imposed sentence over the past three years.

"All I want to see is that he does the community service," Waldron said.  "I don't think that's a lot to ask."

Errors plague Lightsey's court case from the beginning

In November 2015, Jackson was driving from Orlando to her home in Avon Park along U.S. Highway 27 in Polk County when an oncoming pickup truck crossed into her lane.

Lightsey told Florida Highway Patrol investigators he lost control of his truck as he was attempting to reach for his cellphone, which he had dropped on the driver's side floorboard.

Lightsey's Ford F-250 plowed into Jackson's Toyota Corolla, crushing the car and killing the woman behind the wheel.

After toxicology reports confirmed Lightsey was not under the influence of alcohol, FHP issued him a non-criminal traffic citation for careless driving.

Under Florida law, anyone adjudicated guilty of a traffic infraction resulting in a crash that causes death or serious bodily injury will lose his or her driving privilege for six months and must pay a $1,000 fine.

The offender is also required perform 120 hours of community service.

However, Lightsey’s original sentence for careless driving consisted of a mere $164 fine and nothing more.

For reasons that remain unclear, the judge who handled Lightsey's traffic court case was not aware that Jackson had died in the collision.

In March 2016, court records show Lightsey pleaded guilty to careless driving and was ordered to pay the same fine issued to drivers involved in non-fatal crashes.

Waldron said she discovered that error when her family contacted the Polk County Court Clerk's Office to find out when Lightsey's mandatory court appearance was supposed to occur.

"They said it was a basic careless driving (citation).  And we said, 'No, it was a fatality,'" Waldron told News 6.

An attorney representing the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles asked the judge to re-sentence Lightsey with Jackson's death taken into consideration.

Lightsey appeared in court the following month and changed his plea to no contest.

This time, the judge suspended Lightsey's driver's license for six months and issued him a $1,000 fine as the law required.

The judge also ordered Lightsey to perform 120 hours of community service at a trauma center or hospital.   

That community service was to be completed by April 2017, court records show.

Yet two years after that deadline, the court clerk has received no proof indicating Lightsey completed any of his community service requirement, a clerk's office spokesperson told News 6.

Lightsey jailed for driving on a suspended license

In July 2016, a Polk County sheriff's deputy who knew Lightsey from previous encounters happened to see Lightsey driving around Frostproof.

The deputy was aware that Lightsey's driver's license was still under a temporary six-month suspension as part of the careless driving sentence, court records show, so the deputy arrested Lightsey for knowingly driving on a suspended license.

At the time, Lightsey was on probation for a prior burglary conviction in Highlands County.  By driving on a suspended license, a judge determined Lightsey violated the terms of that probation.  

Records show Lightsey spent nearly five months in jail related to those offenses.

When he was released from custody in December 2016, Lightsey had fallen behind on his monthly payments for his $1,000 careless driving fine, court records indicate.

State extends driver's license suspension for failure to pay fine

Under Florida law, if someone fails to comply with a civil penalty from a traffic citation, the court clerk is required to notify FLHSMV to suspend the offender's driving privileges.

A so-called “D-6 suspension” will also occur if a traffic violator fails to appear in court.

In November 2016, just as Lightsey's driver's license was about to be reinstated following the fatal crash, FLHSMV suspended it indefinitely because he had failed to abide by the requirements of his sentence, state records show.

Until Lightsey finished paying the $1,000 penalty and showed proof that he performed 120 hours of community service, he was not allowed to be driving.

"All I want is to see he does the 120 hours," Waldron said. "It won't bring my mom back. It won't change policy. But I just want to see that he does it."

Yet as the deadline to complete that community service approached, Lightsey still had not completed any of it.

"Despite (my) best efforts, (I have) been unable to secure permission to perform (my) community service,"  Lightsey wrote in a court motion filed in January 2017.

Lightsey claimed unspecified "previous conduct" disqualified him from performing community service at a trauma center or hospital.

The judge agreed to modify that specific requirement and ordered Lightsey to perform 120 hours of community service at any location approved by the Clerk of Court, not just a medical facility.

Lightsey could now potentially obtain his community service hours working with an established nonprofit agency such as the United Way,  American Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, Boys and Girls Club of America, or March of Dimes.   

However, even with fewer restrictions on where Lightsey could complete his sentence requirement, News 6 discovered he continued to avoid giving 120 hours of his time to the community.

"When you break it down, that's two-and-a-half hours a week for twelve months," Waldron said.  "And he couldn't figure out how to do that?"

Clerk mistakenly requests driver's license to be reinstated

More than two years after Waldron’s mother was killed in a traffic crash, the man cited for causing the collision finally finished paying the $1,000 fine.

In February 2018, court records show Lightsey paid the remaining $845 balance to the court clerk's office.

But he had still not done any community service, the clerk's office confirmed.

Until both the financial and community service requirements were satisfied, Lightsey's driver's license was supposed to remain suspended.

However, the Polk County Court Clerk's office mistakenly instructed FLHSMV to restore his driving privileges, court records show.

FLHSMV records confirm Lightsey's suspension was lifted March 2, the same day he obtained a replacement Class E driver's license card.

Eight months later, as the third anniversary of her mother's death was approaching, Waldron said she contacted the Polk County Court Clerk's Office to find out whether Lightsey had done his community service yet.

That's when Waldron learned Lightsey no longer had any incentive to fulfill that requirement.

"Someone, as they put it to me, 'made a human error' and reinstated his license again," Waldron told News 6.

News 6 uncovers another error in case

After her staff realized it had mistakenly instructed FLHSMV to reinstate Lightsey's driving privileges, Polk County Clerk of Court Stacy Butterfield mailed a letter to Lightsey.

"You are still required to provide proof that you successfully completed the community service hours ordered by the Court," the December 2018 letter stated.  "Please submit the required hours no later than January 3, 2019 or the State of Florida will be notified for the re-issuance of the license suspension for failing to meet this court requirement."

Just as that deadline approached, Lightsey filed a motion in court asking the judge to allow him to “buy out” his community service hours.

“I wasn’t able to do community service because of a felony that is on my record,” Lightsey wrote. “I work a full-time job as an electrician.”

The judge denied his request.

On Jan. 15, court records indicate the Polk County Court Clerk “reported case as D-6,” meaning the clerk intended to notify FLHSMV to suspend Lightsey’s driver’s license again.

However, News 6 discovered that suspension never occurred.

A copy of Lightsey’s driving record obtained by News 6 from FLHSMV indicated his “Driver Privilege is VALID."

Why was Lightsey still allowed to drive even though he had not yet shown proof of his community service requirement?

“Our office submitted D-6 suspension requests to FLHSMV on the citation,” a Polk County Clerk of Court spokesperson told News 6.  “On multiple occasions, we have contacted and reported the suspension to FLHSMV and will continue to work with FLHSMV until their record is accurate.”

According to FLHSMV, it appears the Polk County Court Clerk’s staff did not enter a specific computer code needed to override their previous electronic request to reinstate Lightsey’s license.

“FLHSMV is committed to enforcing highway safety and has worked with the court to manually add the appropriate court sanctions to the record,” an agency spokesperson told News 6. “Moving forward, the department has invited the court to additional training on proper submission and re-submission of sanctions to the department.”

As a result of News 6’s findings, FLHSMV has begun the process of re-suspending Lightsey’s driving privilege.

“Should the individual not complete the requirements of the sanction, it will become effective April 22, 2019,” a FLHSMV spokesperson said.

Until Lightsey completes his sentence, Waldron said she will not be able to feel closure about her mother’s death.

“We lost the rock of our family and I'm watching somebody walk around with basically no punishment. No remorse. No anything,” Waldron said.  “I don't understand how, as a family member of a victim, that it should be my responsibility to make sure he's doing what he was sentenced to do.”

About the Author:

Emmy Award-winning investigative reporter Mike DeForest has been covering Central Florida news for more than two decades.