Crime

A Keys man was drunk when his speeding car hit a motorcyclist. Here’s his punishment.

Footage shows DUI crash that almost killed motorcyclist

Video shot from a Key Largo restaurant shows the moment Gregory Pope's Volkswagen Passat slams into the back of a Harley Davidson motorcycle driven by Phil Weydener.
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Video shot from a Key Largo restaurant shows the moment Gregory Pope's Volkswagen Passat slams into the back of a Harley Davidson motorcycle driven by Phil Weydener.

A Tavernier man accused of driving drunk and hitting a motorcyclist with his speeding car was sentenced to eight years in state prison followed by seven years probation.

Gregory Pope left his mother’s house in West Palm Beach around 8 a.m. on Oct. 15 to return home.

Karen Pope said her son was sober when he pulled out of her driveway. Over the course of the next two hours, Gregory Pope, 47, apparently drank so much vodka that by the time he reached Key Largo his blood alcohol level was .330 — almost three times the legal limit.

When he entered the Keys in his Volkswagen Passat, Monroe County Sheriff’s Office deputies and Florida Highway Patrol troopers tried to stop him for speeding. According to Assistant State Attorney Luke Bovill, cops clocked Pope driving south on U.S. 1 going more than 75 mph in a 45-mph zone. He was driving so recklessly, drivers were pulling over to get out of his way, Bovill said Tuesday at the Plantation Key courthouse during Pope’s sentencing on several felony DUI counts.

When Pope reached mile marker 102, he drove into the back of an SUV, causing a chain reaction of crashes that ended with his Passat plowing into the back of a Harley-Davidson driven by Phil Weydener, 54, destroying the bike and severely injuring Weydener.

“The impact was so severe, it ripped the helmet off my head,” Weydener said at the hearing.

Florida Highway Patrol traffic investigators estimate Pope’s car was traveling at 98 mph when it hit the first vehicle.

Monroe County Circuit Judge Luis Garcia Tuesday sentenced Pope and also revoked his driver’s license for 10 years.

Garcia cited Pope’s history of driving under the influence arrests, including one in 2013 when he was so drunk a deputy found him slumped over the steering wheel of his pickup truck and had to break the window to make sure he was alive.

“That was the universe telling you to get help,” Garcia told Pope.

Pope addressed Weydener at the hearing, apologizing for inflicting so much physical and emotional damage. He said he wrote him several letters during his time in county jail, but didn’t have the nerve to send them.

“Somehow, sorry just doesn’t cut it,” Pope said.

Pope bonded out of jail a few days after the crash. But on on his first appearance before a judge on Oct. 30, he showed up to court drunk and Garcia ordered him held with no bond allowed. He has been in jail since.

Pope’s mother and aunt spoke on his behalf during the hearing pleading for alcohol treatment rather than punishment. They said Pope long struggled with alcoholism, describing him as a successful college graduate, kids sports coach and charter fishing boat captain who was powerless to his addiction.

“Greg is without a doubt the most kind and generous person I know until alcohol entered into the equation,” Karen Pope said.

But, Garcia said Pope had multiple chances to get clean and had to answer for the pain and damaged he caused.

“Rehabilitation will have to take a back seat,” he said. Part of Pope’s probation is he must enter in-treatment rehabilitation when he leaves prison.

Garcia said the Keys is well-known as a place where drinking is part of the lifestyle and where there’s a good chance several drivers on U.S. 1 are under the influence — especially at night. But, when Pope crashed into Weydener, it was a Monday morning. And he not only entered the Keys drunk, he drove in that condition all the way down the Turnpike during rush hour.

“You don’t expect at 10 a.m. on a Monday morning to almost lose your life because someone is drunk,” Garcia said. “You endangered hundreds of people.”

Weydener, meanwhile, has endured multiple surgeries since the crash. He suffered fractures to his face and skull and had to have an operation to relieve bleeding from his brain. He has nerve damage throughout his body and has had so many procedures, he has no feeling in parts of his face.

“You could put a cigarette out on my head and I wouldn’t feel it,” he said.

Pope was driving without insurance, so Weydener has had to pay thousands of dollars in co-pays. Most of his bills have been covered by the Veteran’s Administration because he served in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Weydener was physically active before the crash, counting working out and bicycle riding among his daily routines. He is also a licensed airplane pilot, and of course, a motorcycle rider. Left with equilibrium problems, it’s possible he’ll never do these activities again.

“One day, he’s going to get out of prison, and I’m going to have problems the rest of my life,” Weydener said.

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