JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — What does it mean to be “a danger to the community?” It’s a question that will go before a Clay County judge who must decide whether to release a repeat traffic offender or keep him behind bars.
On Monday, Circuit Judge Don Lester will hear a motion to set bond for Clifford Ringer. As First Coast News has reported, the 40-year-old has an extensive history of driving infractions over the past three decades, including multiple DUIs and reckless driving charges. His license has been mostly suspended since 2005, and was, in fact, suspended at the time of the crash that nearly killed Gavin Conroy.
Conroy was pronounced dead early Wednesday morning. Family members say he died shortly after midnight.
The 23-year-old Conroy was on his way to work at Outback Steakhouse in Orange Park April 4 when investigators say Ringer failed to stop at a red light and rear ended Conroy's car. The fuel tank ruptured and ignited, engulfing the vehicle. Conroy was burned over 93 percent of his body. He remained hospitalized in intensive care until his death today, undergoing 27 surgeries including amputation of both legs and several fingers.
After Ringer got another ticket on July 2 for allegedly running a red light, prosecutors filed a motion to revoke his bond, saying he was “a danger to the community.” Judge Lester granted the request, echoing the language of the motion. Ringer has been in jail since Aug. 1, but his public defenders filed a motion to set bond, scheduled to be heard Monday.
The motion says Ringer is entitled to bond because the July ticket wasn't a criminal violation (it’s a civil infraction) and didn’t violate the terms of his pretrial release. He was original bond was set at $753, with no special conditions. The motion notes that an inmate is entitled to bond “unless charged with a capital offense or an offense punishable by life imprisonment, and the proof of guilt is evident and the presumption great.”
Ringer is currently charged with driving on a suspended license in an accident that caused serious bodily injury or death, and driving on a suspended license for a third (or more) time(s) – both third degree felonies. He has pleaded not guilty.
Speaking before news of Conroy's death became public, Florida Highway Patrol spokesman Sgt. Dylan Bryan said if Conroy didn't survive, the closed crash investigation would be reopened and investigated as a traffic homicide. That could lead to possible additional charges filed.
In a traffic homicide, a driver is typically required to submit to a blood draw for toxicology purposes. On the day of the accident, Bryan says Ringer was asked to submit to a voluntary blood draw but refused. According to Bryan, because Ringer did not appear impaired at the scene, there was no probable cause for a compulsory blood draw.
First Coast News reached out to the State Attorney's Office to see if additional charges are planned in lieu of Conroy's death.
More than two dozen of Conroy’s family members and supporters were at the bond revocation hearing, most wearing T-shirts with his image on the front, others reading “I love Gavin.” They are expected to appear at Monday’s hearing as well.
Bryan, who was on the scene of the crash and has kept up with Conroy's condition says, "When we do our investigation, and the case has come to a conclusion and it's a traffic ticket -- it's sometimes kind of hard to swallow."
"But, again, [this] wasn't malicious in nature. It wasn't an intentional act," Bryan continues. "What I hope some people would understand, when it's all said and done, when all this is coming to light, is that people do make mistakes. And that happens every day to all kinds of people."