[PHOTO CREDIT: Courtesy of the Eaglin Family (l) / Facebook Eustis Fire Department (r)]
[Original Publish Date: 05/23/20]
EUSTIS, Florida — The former firefighter accused of killing a young woman while driving drunk was nearly twice the legal limit and claimed he had COVID-19 after the crash, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
Michael Geoffrey Downs, 30, turned himself in at the Lake County Jail Friday afternoon after apparently being tipped off there was a warrant for his arrest for killing 23-year old Catherine Eaglin on March 19. Downs is charged with DUI manslaughter, three counts of DUI with property damage and one count of false information on a crash report for falsely claiming he was infected with COVID-19. He was released from the LCJ on $33,500 bond just 59 minutes after he was booked.
Downs, who worked for Eustis Fire Department and volunteered at Umatilla Fire Department, was off-duty at the time of the three-vehicle crash and traveling eastbound in a 2016 Dodge Ram on State Road 44 near Huff Road when he failed to stop and struck the back of a 2017 Nissan Sentra, “propelling” it into the back of a stopped dump truck. The Nissan, being driven by Eaglin, of DeLand was stopped on State Road 44, facing east, behind a 2020 dump truck being driven by William Gomes, 33, of Orlando shortly after 11:15 p.m. March 19, according to the crash report.
Eaglin, who turned 23 just six days before the crash, was pronounced dead on the scene, and was wearing a seatbelt. Downs, of Eustis, was airlifted to Central Florida Regional Medical Center and he was not wearing a seatbelt. Gomes was transported by Lake EMS to AdventHealth Waterman; he was wearing a seatbelt.
An updated crash report provided to Lake Legal News by FHP late Friday night states Downs’ BAC was .155, nearly twice Florida’s legal limit. It is unclear exactly what time the blood was drawn, but it was after Downs was transported by air to Central Florida Regional Medical Center in Sanford. Any BAC over .15 carries enhanced penalties, said FHP Lt. Kim Montes.
“FHP had to subpoena medical blood, as Cpl. [Eric] Almeyda was unable to obtain blood from Mr. Downs,” Montes said in an email to LLN. “With the challenge of not being able to obtain a blood sample that night, Cpl. Almeyda immediately subpoenaed the medical blood and completed the investigation before making an arrest.’
Downs also claimed he may have COVID-19. “When Cpl. Almeyda arrived at the hospital to interview and evaluate Mr. Downs, he was told by the nurses that Mr. Downs claimed he may have COVID-19,” Montes said in an email. “The hospital staff placed Cpl. Almeyda in full protective PPE to go in the room to talk with Mr. Downs.”
At the hospital, no routine field sobriety exercises were possible, nor was it possible for traffic homicide investigator Almeyda to get close enough to Downs to determine whether he had physical signs of impairment — such as bloodshot eyes or the odor of alcohol on his breath. “We couldn’t do anything because he was claiming COVID-19,” Montes explained to LLN in a phone interview.
Downs allegedly made the claim just 10 days after Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency in Florida due to COVID-19.
DUI manslaughter investigations typically take several months, Montes said. “Cpl. Almeyda worked diligently to complete this investigation in two months.”
As soon as someone is arrested the speedy trial clock starts ticking, “We don’t make an arrest to build a case,” Montes said, “We build the case to make an arrest.”
[ Read our original Lake Legal News article here: https://www.lakelegalnews.com/article/facebook-beer-photo-vanishes-as-local-firefighter-criminally-investigated-traffic-fatality/ ]
Our Editor-in-Chief, Marilyn M. Aciego, began writing for Lake Legal News in 2010. Born and raised in Lake County, she is a graduate of Umatilla High School and Lake-Sumter State College. She started her journalism career at LSSC, where she was editor of both student publications, The Angler and The Odyssey. Her professional career began at the Daily Commercial in 2004 where she covered cops and courts the majority of her time there until she left in 2009. Currently, along with being Editor-in-Chief of Lake Legal News, she is the Florida bureau chief for an international media organization. She has made more than two dozen appearances on live national television, including Nancy Grace and the Greta Van Susteren show, along with her appearance on Evil Twins. Contact her with breaking news, tips, and feedback by sending an e-mail to 352Tips@gmail.com. You can also contact us on our Facebook page — and make sure you “Like” and “Follow us” there. [PHOTO CREDIT: Bonnie Whicher]