St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office, county to pay $6.3 million to settle lawsuit after deputy crash left woman disabled

St. Johns County Commissioners on Tuesday voted unanimously to approve a $6.3 million settlement for a lawsuit that was filed following a 2019 crash involving a St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office deputy.

The 2020 lawsuit was filed by Julia “Jenny” Perez.

FHP said Deputy Brandon Hetzler was attempting to make a U-turn when two motorcycles, one of which was being driven by Perez, hit the front of his marked patrol car. Perez and Thomas Eiland, who was driving the other motorcycle, were both thrown off and injured.

A spokesman with the Sheriff’s Office said it was an emotional event for Hetzler. It wasn’t clear at the time of the crash if he was making the U-turn to respond to a call, but Hetzler was found at fault by the Florida Highway Patrol and a St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office review board.

The crash left Perez unconscious for three months and she 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.”

According to a report from The St. Augustine Record from 2022, Perez was unable to work, homeless and in need of continuing medical care.

“My body is broken, and I don’t have the money to take care of my body,” Perez said in an interview with The Record from her apartment just before she was evicted.

Commissioners said some of the money for the settlement will come from the county’s general fund and some with come directly from the Sheriff’s Office budget.

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