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Driver in fiery, fatal crash granted bond, faces 'habitual offender' label for troubled driving history

Clifford Ringer's bond was previously revoked when a judge said he is "a danger to the community." Days after the victim in the crash died, he's been granted bond.

CLAY COUNTY, Fla. — The video attached to this story is from a previous, related report.

The man police say is responsible for the Clay County crash that led to 23-year-old Gavin Conroy's death had his request for bond granted during a court appearance Monday. 

Circuit Judge Don Lester set Clifford Ringer's bond at $260,000, walking back a decision two weeks ago to revoke bond and keep Ringer in jail.

Conroy was in the hospital for 118 days as a result of injuries from the accident, enduring more than 20 surgeries before he passed away Wednesday. 

“He was the lighthouse. Like I've always said he showed everyone the way. So we have to stay strong for him in his honor and keep fighting. So no matter what happens we are going to stay positive," said Corey Whitlatch, Gavin's uncle.

The courtroom was packed with family, friends and even some caregivers who travelled from out of state to show their support. Many were wearing shirts with Conroy’s picture and the words, “Gavin’s fight team.”

“The fact that he is even asking for a bond is very insulting it just goes to show he has no remorse for what he’s done. If I did what he did I would want to sit in jail. I would want to sit there because I'm holding myself accountable for what I did a life is lost," said Stacie Whitlatch, Gavin's aunt.

After the judge announced he would set bond, Conroy’s mother and siblings began crying and left the courtroom.

“We have a lot of anger and that’s what we are bringing to the court now. We are bringing our anger and we are trying to show them that something needs to change. I know there’s been multiple people that drive on a suspended license that gets away with it. We need to make changes. The law needs to change," said Whitlatch. 

Prosecutors filed a request to prosecute Ringer as a habitual offender, which would effectively double any penalty he might receive. If he is convicted on his two current charges related to driving on a suspended license in an accident that results in injury or death, he would face up to 10 years in prison on each charge.

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.

'A danger to society'

Ringer 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.

Following the accident that seriously injured Conroy, Ringer got another traffic citation 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.

The motion says Ringer is entitled to bond because the July ticket wasn't a criminal violation, but 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."

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 Wednesday, undergoing 27 surgeries including amputation of both legs and several fingers.

Case will be reopened

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.

Ringer's next pretrial appearance is set for September 12. 

   

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