Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition

Deputy died in crash while racing to crime scene

Jury now must decide if driver is guilty of DUI manslaught­er

- By Rafael Olmeda

As the trial of Darran Johnson, a Boynton Beach man accused of causing the crash that killed a Broward Sheriff ’s deputy in 2019, came to a close on Thursday, one major question was answered for jurors without any room for doubt — the defendant did not run a red light.

How much that matters is now up to the jury.

Johnson is charged with DUI manslaught­er and vehicular homicide in the July 2019 death of Broward Sheriff’s Deputy Benjamin Nimtz, who was killed when his patrol SUV collided with Johnson’s Toyota Tundra.

Investigat­ors and prosecutor­s say Johnson was legally drunk at the time of the accident, speeding through the intersecti­on of Southwest 10th Street and Military Trail in Deerfield Beach and ignoring the lights and sirens on Nimtz’s vehicle. Johnson was impaired, said Assistant State Attorney Ross Weiner. If he had not been, the accident would not have happened and Nimtz, who was racing to a domestic disturbanc­e call, would still be alive, Weiner said.

Until recently, the question of whether Johnson ran a red light was still formally in dispute. After the trial opened Feb. 28, prosecutio­n witnesses made it clear that while they once believed Johnson went through a red light, they no longer believe that to be the case.

Nimtz, 30, was a rookie with the Broward Sheriff ’s Office, an Iraq and Afghanista­n war veteran with plans to leave South Florida with his family and start a new career in Indiana.

Defense lawyers painted the crash that claimed his life as a tragedy, but not a crime.

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“This was a tragic accident; it should never have happened,” said defense attorney Zeljka Bozanic. But it was Nimtz who ran the red light. She said prosecutor­s and investigat­ors were wrong about the red light against Johnson, and sought to cast doubt on the rest of their case.

The lights and sirens on Nimtz’s vehicle may not have been on, she said. Johnson’s blood alcohol level, which tested at 0.08, may not have been that high, she said.

Johnson faces a maximum of 34 years in prison of convicted of all charges.

Deliberati­ons begin Friday morning.

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