Brooke Anna Lorenzen, 19, of Palm Coast, was charged with DUI manslaughter and DUI with property damage in the 2020 crash that killed Mario Joseph Bizier, 56, on I-95. A warrant for her arrest was issued this morning and she was expected to turn herself in at the county jail today.
The crash took place in the early morning of May 6, 2020, near the Matanzas Woods Parkway interchange. Lorenzen, 18 at the time, a recent graduate of Pedro Menendez High School in St. Augustine and a resident of Crossgate Court West in Palm Coast, had worked that night at a restaurant in St. Augustine, then visited a friend beachside up there, where there’d been drinking. Lorenzen’s blood alcohol level, when it would be tested after the crash–she’d consented to a blood draw–read 0.111. In Florida the legal limit for drivers is 0.08.
Lorenzen was also “distracted by her phone,” as she told a Florida Highway Patrol investigator after the crash. At 3:19 that May morning, she was in the center lane close to a truck–a three-axle flatbed carrying building materials including plaster and lumber. Mario Joseph Bizier, 56, was driving the truck, a Mack 600. Like Lorenzen, a cheerleader at her school, Bizier was popular among his peers and people he worked with. He drove for Gleckler and Sons, the Jacksonville building supply company.
As she was on her phone, Lorenzen realized she’d approached too close to Bizier’s truck in front of her. She drifted to the outside lane of the three-lane southbound highway. She overcorrected, causing her first to rotate into the outside shoulder then veer back in across the driving lanes, right in front of Bizier’s truck, close enough to graze fenders. The Florida Highway Patrol investigator who investigated the crash said Bizier took evasive action to avoid crashing into her, but because of the heavy load and the type of materials he was carrying, the load shifted, causing him to lose control, run off to the the emergency lane, overturning and crashing into the guardrail. Lorenzen’s car was still drifting and again collided with the truck before sliding back across the lanes and coming to a rest past the shoulder on the right side of the road. (See a diagram of the crash below.)
Mario Joseph Bizier was pronounced deceased by a Flagler County Fire Rescue paramedic at 3:50 that morning, at the scene.
“He actually saved her life, really,” the FHP investigator said, describing Bizier’s evasive maneuver to avoid crashing into Lorenzen. “In talking to the boss and family, and in talking to the wife, that’s the kind of man he was, he’d probably take his own life than take somebody else’s.”
Lorenzen was herself hurt and transported to AdventHealth Palm Coast. Both sides of I-95 were affected by the crash, which was cleared by John’s Towing of Bunnell. The crash resulted in an insurance payout to Gleckler and Sons, the building supply company, of $104,355 for cargo and collision damages, according to court papers.
For Lorenzen, who had earned a scholarship to a Southeastern Conference university, the criminal charges are only part of the consequences of the crash. That October, Bizier’s wife, Tammy Michelle Bizier, filed a civil suit against Lorenzen and her insurance company for damages in excess of $30,000. Lorenzen has denied negligence: her answer in court places the blame for Bizier’s death on Bizier’s own negligence “and that his negligence was a contributing cause of this accident.” The answer also alleges that Bizier “failed to use an available and operational seat-belt or other safety equipment,” though the crash report contradicts that: “Shoulder and lap belt used,” it states. The accident, Lorenzen’s answer states, “was caused by an independent and/or intervening cause.”
As of three weeks ago, Tammy Bizier’s lawyers had not succeeded, despite repeated attempts to depose Lorenzen, leading to a motion to compel–a request to the court to order Lorenzen to be deposed. Last week, Lorenzen filed a motion to delay the trial, which had originally been scheduled for Dec. 13. She argued through her attorney–Michael McCoy of Jacksonville–that “the Traffic Homicide Report and all the evidence relating to the traffic homicide investigation still has not been released.” That is no longer the case: FHP’s work ended now that the warrant for Lorenzen’s arrest has been signed, starting the criminal proceedings’ trial clock. The next case management conference in the case is scheduled for November 30 before Circuit Judge Terence Perkins.
That is only one of two civil suits Lorenzen faces. In July, The insurer for Bizier’s Jacksonville company filed suit to recover the more than $100,000 in damages in the crash. Alfred Romero, who owned the Mercedes in the crash, is also named a defendant in that suit.
On the criminal side, DUI manslaughter is a second-degree felony with a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison, and a minimum mandatory sentence of just over 10 years in prison in addition to probation and the permanent revocation of the driver’s license, if the individual is convicted. But a so-called “downward departure” from the minimum mandatory sentence is possible, meaning that it is within the judge’s discretion to go for a lesser punishment. But to do so, the judge would have to find mitigating circumstances. Even with that downward departure, the law caps the departure to a minimum of a four-year sentence. Put another way: absent an extraordinary plea deal, which would still have to be ratified by the judge, Lorenzen is facing an uphill battle to avoid prison time, if convicted.
If she were to turn down a plea deal and opt for a trial, she would risk a conviction and the replacement of the magnanimity of a plea offer with harsher terms come sentencing–as was the case with Josh Carver, the Palatka man a jury found guilty on Wednesday of leaving the scene of a crash with a death, now exposing him to up to 30 years in prison. That severe a penalty is very unlikely, given his clean record until now. But the judge is unlikely to revert to the plea terms offered him by prosecutors before trial: two to three years in prison, and seven years of probation.
Lorenzen also faces a charge of DUI with property damage, a first degree misdemeanor. Once booked at the jail, Lorenzen was expected to post bail on $50,000 bond.