Julia "Jenny" Perez says her life was shattered after a St. Johns County sheriff's deputy hit her motorcycle. | Fresh Take FloridaJulia "Jenny" Perez says her life was shattered after a St. Johns County sheriff's deputy hit her motorcycle. | Fresh Take Florida
Julia "Jenny" Perez says her life was shattered after a St. Johns County sheriff's deputy hit her motorcycle. | Provided by Julia Perez, via Fresh Take Florida

$15 million sought in crash with St. Johns County deputy

Published on August 8, 2023 at 2:21 pm

State Sen. Jennifer Bradley of Fleming Island has filed a proposal that calls for the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office to pay $15 million to a woman who was severely injured in 2019 when a deputy’s vehicle hit her motorcycle.

Bradley filed the “claim” bill (SB 10) for consideration during the 2024 legislative session, which will start in January. The bill would provide compensation to Julia “Jenny” Perez, whose motorcycle was struck when Deputy Brandon Hetzler made a left turn, according to the bill.

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Perez was driving her Heritage Classic Harley Davidson in April 2019 with her then-fiancé, Thomas Eiland, who was on his own bike, in St. Augustine when Hetzler hit Perez and Eiland. Both were wearing helmets.

Hetzler was answering a call but did not have his lights or sirens on, and Perez and Eiland had the right of way, according to a Florida Highway Patrol crash report. Hired in June 2018, Hetzler had less than a year on the job at the time of the crash.

The Florida Highway Patrol and a St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office review board found Hetzler to be at fault. The bill said Perez was unconscious for three months and was on a ventilator and a feeding tube. She suffered a traumatic brain injury and other long-term effects, such as kidney failure, and is “totally disabled,” the bill said.

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Perez told Fresh Take Florida last year that she was unable to work, homeless and in need of continuing medical care.

Perez relearned routine daily tasks — like brushing her teeth, doing her hair, putting on clothes — to account for the new constant pain in her life.

She said she wonders every day when she will ever be able to do anything normal again. Her once vibrant life of dancing, rock climbing and zip-lining has been replaced with doctor visits and dozens of surgeries.

“My life was totally different. I don’t even remember how it was before,” Perez told Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. “I see old videos and think, ‘Wow I loved myself before.’”

Perez sued the Sheriff’s Office, but the suit has languished in court. Instead, Bradley pursued the claim bill.

The state’s sovereign-immunity laws typically place strict limits on amounts of money government agencies can be required to pay because of negligence. But legislative claim bills can be filed to direct payments of large amounts.

Bradley filed a similar bill in this year’s legislative session, but it died in committee. Lawmakers rarely approve such bills. In the last five years, only 15 of at least 123 such bills have passed.

While Bradley’s bill seeks $15 million, it leaves open the possibility of an agreement that would lead to the Sheriff’s Office paying a lower amount.


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