A homeless man who stole a backhoe in Marathon and took it for a midnight ride on the Seven Mile Bridge in February will spend 30 months in state prison and must pay $43,862.73 for the damage he caused.
Carl J. Blahnik, 60, appeared before Acting Circuit Court Judge Ruth Becker at the Marathon courthouse Monday morning to answer for the court-ordered costs for causing extensive damage to the bridge and the backhoe during the 90-minute ride.
Blahnik’s sentence will be followed by four years of probation, during which he must pay the restitution, Assistant State Attorney Jon Byrne said. A restitution hearing was not necessary because Blahnik accepted the plea offer Monday.
Byrne said the restitution breaks down to $17,558.05 for damage to the 2015 John Deere backhoe and $26,304.68 for damage to the bridge.
“He basically destroyed it,” Byrne said of the backhoe, which was owned by Sunbelt Rentals in Marathon. It was being rented by David Marlin, who said he did not know Blahnik or give him permission to use it, according to the arrest affidavit from the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office.
Blahnik used the heavy equipment to drop large rocks across the north entrance of the span. He then headed south at 13 mph and nearly made it to the bridge's south end at mile marker 40. Two Sheriff's Office patrol cars cut him off, but Blahnik executed a turn and headed north.
Deputies chased the backhoe — a slow-speed chase — while Blahnik drove back and forth. The backhoe finally stopped when deputies set up road spikes to deflate its tires.
Ivette Ruiz-Paz, spokesperson for the Florida Department of Transportation’s South Florida District, said hundreds of reflective pavement markers were destroyed and minor damage occurred to the bridge concrete deck.
Blahnik pleaded guilty to one felony count each of aggravated fleeing or attempting to elude police, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, grand theft and criminal mischief. Blahnik also pleaded guilty to violating Florida’s litter law for littering 15 pounds to under 500 pounds, a first-degree misdemeanor, and reckless driving for the manor in which he drove the backhoe, Byrne said.
Two counts of criminal mischief causing $1,000 or more in damage and one count of driving on a suspended license were dropped in exchange for Monday’s plea, Byrne said.
Katie Atkins: 305-440-3219