OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. – Eleven days after an Osceola County sheriff's deputy crashed her patrol car into a vehicle while approaching a stop light, a collision that killed the other driver, sheriff's officials found no evidence the deputy broke department rules, a News 6 investigation reveals.
The Florida Highway Patrol has not yet disclosed the findings of its official investigation into the Oct. 5 crash, so it remains unknown whether careless driving, a mechanical problem with the patrol car or some other factor contributed to the collision.
Robert Johnston, 34, was killed when the newly purchased Dodge Charger driven by Deputy Gloria Boccio slammed into the rear of his pickup truck as he was stopping at a traffic light on U.S. 192.
"These brakes, there's no f------ brakes on my car just now," Boccio told a co-worker in a recorded phone call shortly after the crash. "They said they replaced the brakes, but there was no brakes on my car."
Boccio had reported brake failure with her patrol car 10 days earlier but mechanics could not replicate the problem, records showed.
The day of the deadly crash, Sheriff Russell Gibson placed Boccio, 29, on paid administrative leave.
But less than two weeks later, the agency cleared the deputy to return to work, records obtained by News 6 show.
While FHP was in the very early stages of its traffic homicide investigation, the Osceola County Sheriff's Office conducted an "initial administrative review" of the crash, according to an internal memo.
OCSO Information Technology Director Daniel Caban analyzed Boccio's agency-issued laptop computer and cellphone along with her patrol car's so-called Automatic Vehicle Location system, which tracks the car's movement and speed.
"There was no indication that any agency policies were violated," Major Ron Roberts wrote in the Oct. 16 memo to Gibson. "Based on the review, Deputy Boccio can return back to work at a full time status."
Major Jacob Ruiz, a Sheriff’s Office spokesman, previously told News 6 that Boccio remained on administrative leave until Oct. 29.
The memo indicated that a detective would later be conducting a "forensic analysis" of Boccio's laptop and cellphone, which the agency said it would share with FHP.
Since FHP has not yet released the findings of its investigation, it is not known whether traffic homicide investigators uncovered additional information that would alter the conclusion reached by the Sheriff's Office during its initial administrative review.
“It is common for employees to return back to work who are the subject of an internal investigation,” Ruiz told News 6 in response to this story. “Anytime (an agency employee) is involved in an incident involving serious bodily injury or death, it is policy to immediately start an internal investigation and place the employee on administrative leave pending the internal investigation and the completion of a post-incident evaluation by a psychologist.”
“The (agency) member may return to work based on the preliminary findings of the investigation and clearance by the psychologist for the employee to return to work,” Ruiz added.
The family of the Clermont man killed in the crash cannot understand why OCSO allowed Boccio to return to work so soon after the FHP traffic homicide investigation began.
"An internal investigation done by an organization as corrupt and incompetent as the Osceola County Sheriff’s Department has absolutely no credibility," said Brian Johnston, who believes the deputy was at fault for the collision that claimed his brother's life. “These people respond to accidents all the time that they knew immediately that there was no defensible cause for the crash.”
An attorney representing Boccio, who said he had been traveling out of the country as News 6 was researching this story, has not yet provided any comment on behalf of his client.
Sheriff did not immediately investigate Boccio for causing second crash
One month after surviving the crash that killed Johnston, Boccio was involved in another collision while driving an OCSO patrol vehicle on the State Road 417 expressway.
On Nov. 6, Boccio rapidly changed lanes at a hard angle and struck another vehicle, according to an FHP traffic citation issued to the deputy.
No one was injured in that second crash.
Boccio attended traffic school and paid a $164 fine for making an improper lane change, court records show.
An internal memo obtained by News 6 suggests OCSO launched an investigation into that collision three weeks after it occurred.
“On November 27, 2018, Chief Deputy Martha Gens authorized an administrative investigation into an alleged Violation of Rules policy violation,” the memo states.
“That is not correct,” Ruiz wrote in an email to News 6, disputing the agency waited three weeks to begin the internal probe. “(The investigation into the second crash) occurred two days later, on November 8.”
Ruiz did not respond to a followup email seeking clarification on the date discrepancy.
Regardless of when the Sheriff’s Office officially began investigating the second crash, the agency allowed Boccio to remain on the job for more than a month after she received the traffic citation.
County pays victim’s family $200K, Boccio placed on paid leave again
During a Jan. 7 meeting of the Osceola County Board of Commissioners, the elected officials unanimously voted to approve a $200,000 settlement for the family of Johnston, the man killed in the October crash.
Three days later, the sheriff placed Boccio on paid administrative leave again.
“It’s not a punishment,” Gibson told News 6 at the time. “It’s just time away from this job, this stress, to really concentrate on maybe her at this point, and to process everything that’s happened up until this point.”
An agency spokesman later reiterated the decision to take Boccio off the job was not related to the County Commissioners’ actions.
“The settlement with the family of Mr. Johnston, nor anything uncovered during the investigations of the two incidents, were the reason the sheriff’s office placed Deputy Boccio on leave in January 2019,” Ruiz said.
FHP’s investigative report into the fatal October crash has been completed but must be reviewed before the findings are released publicly, according to an FHP spokesperson. The agency has not indicated when that might occur.