WINTER HAVEN, Fla. - A 56-year-old man who tried to take the fall for his drunk-driving friend faces charges along with the suspect after he told law enforcement officers he was behind the wheel in a life-threatening DUI crash he had no involvement in, according to Polk County Officials.
Francisco Martinez, a 30-year-old illegal immigrant, was driving on Rifle Range Road in Winter Haven with a .226 blood alcohol level, well past the legal .08 limit, when the incident occurred.
Martinez approached the intersection of 8th Street West about 2:30 Sunday morning when he lost control of his car and slammed into a tree.
Martinez, who has no known address, was ejected from the vehicle while his two rear-seat passengers, Uriel Tolentino and Jesus Martagon-Cortez, both of whom also have no known address, remained inside the vehicle.
All three men were taken to the hospital.
During the investigation, the owner of the car, 56-year-old Bobby Vinton of Winter Haven, walked up to deputies and said he was the one who drove during the accident.
He gave two separate sworn statements that he was driving, yet there were no indications that he had been involved in a crash. His claims conflicted with witnesses who said they saw Martinez ejected from the driver's seat.
Vinton eventually confessed to deputies that he lied because he didn't want Martinez to get into trouble.
Martinez suffered several lacerations to his face and Cortez is in stable condition, but Tolentino is in critical condition.
Officials say no one in the car was wearing a seatbelt.
After Martinez was released from the hospital, he was taken to Polk County Jail and charged with two counts DUI With Serious Bodily Injury, one count DUI with Property Damage, and one count No valid driver's license.
He will also be on hold for ICE, as he is in the country illegally.
Vinton was also was arrested for Giving False Info to Police During a Felony Investigation.
"Here's another example of how dangerous it is to drink and drive and an example of why you should never lie to law enforcement," Sheriff Grady Judd said.
"The only good thing about this situation is that this drunk driver didn't crash into another vehicle and hurt anyone else. He and his friends learned a tough lesson this weekend---one that they will pay for, for the rest of their lives. "