‘What is it going to take?’ Orlando mom fights for justice after son killed in crash

Case against accused drunk driver stalled due to COVID-19, lack of resources

ORLANDO, Fla. – At 16 years old, Mikey Stroz was the kind of kid who made an impact.

“He was funny, silly, everyone’s best pal,” his mom, Jacklynn Stroz, told News 6. “I get emails from college coaches still wanting to recruit Mikey (for lacrosse), and I have to tell them he is no longer with us.”

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In June 2021, Mikey, his sister and dad were on vacation, driving down an Alabama highway, when a wrong-way driver hit the family car head-on.

Mikey was killed instantly.

“It is a like there is a heaviness on your heart,” said Stroz, holding back tears as she has tried to describe life without her only son. “You are forcing yourself to breathe, knowing that your kid is not coming back.”

The holidays have been an especially emotional time as the family grapples with their loss.

“Seeing pictures and videos, and you know, he should be there decorating my Christmas tree,” Stroz said. “I am choosing to find joy for my daughter while still missing my kid.”

In the crash report, troopers said the wrong-way driver was “under the influence of alcohol”. They even took a blood test to prove it. Six months later, however, the driver has still not been arrested or charged.

“That is the part that is frustrating. He is out there still driving, and he could kill someone else again. And so, as a mom, there is no justice for my kid,” Stroz told News 6 investigator Merris Badcock.

The district attorney’s office handling Mikey’s case in Huntsville, Ala. did not respond to calls or email requests for an interview.

In an email to Stroz, however, they blamed the delay in prosecution on a backlog in grand jury hearings due to COVID-19.

“An excuse that there is not, you know, not resources, not time? When you have a dead child, when you have a mother who is grieving, you make the time,” said attorney Steven Kramer, a legal analyst for News 6.

Kramer independently reviewed the limited evidence News 6 received from the Alabama law enforcement agency.

In doing so, Kramer found an important difference between Florida’s and Alabama’s justice systems.

In Florida, only capital felonies (those involving the death penalty) have to be heard by a grand jury before prosecutors can file charges.

In Alabama, every single felony has to be heard by a grand jury before prosecutors can file charges.

“That can be complicated by (COVID-19). When you have to pull people in for jury duty, I mean, that was a nightmare in 2020,” Kramer said. “People did not want to come in for jury duty, or they had medical excuses.”

In the email to Stroz, prosecutors wrote in part, “cases involving deaths and serious assaults generally get priority in grand jury scheduling … but unfortunately, there is no shortage of serious cases waiting in the queue.”

While Alabama suspects wait for the grand jury meetings, they could be free on the street.

“Even before (COVID-19), it would not be uncommon for a client to wait one to two years before they were indicted,” said Erin Atkins, a high-profile defense attorney in Huntsville, where Mikey’s case is supposed to be heard.

She added they need more judges.

“Huntsville is the largest city in the state of Alabama, and we only have seven circuit judges, so, in addition to (COVID-19), we have a backlog in cases because we just cannot accommodate that many cases,” Atkins said.

It is a fix Atkins believes has to come from the Alabama State Legislature.

News 6 found out Alabama Senator Sam Givhan, who represents the state’s seventh district, has tried to file bills to bring more judges to the bench across the state, but so far the bill has been struck down by his colleagues.

Now, Stroz hopes her story will resonate with lawmakers and help push the bill through the Alabama State Legislature.

“What is it going to take for someone to stop this? How long should a mother have to wait, a father have to wait, for this man to be charged? They have got to hear these cases. They cannot put us through this anymore. That is my big push. He needs to be arrested and charged,” Stroz said.

About the Author:

Award-winning investigative reporter Merris Badcock joined the News 6 team in October 2020. Merris is the recipient of a Regional Edward R. Murrow Award, a Suncoast Regional Emmy Award, four Suncoast Emmy Regional nominations, and two first-place Florida Association of Broadcast Journalists’ Awards.