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Last Oct. 11, Miami police officer Fausto Lopez was chased, stopped, ordered out of his police car at gunpoint and handcuffed by a Florida Highway Patrol trooper after she clocked him doing speeds in excess of 120 miles per hour on the Florida Turnpike.
His lawyer, William Matthewman, said Lopez is innocent.
The traffic stop was all just "a simple misunderstanding that has been blown out of proportion," said Matthewman.
However, South Florida Sun-Sentinel reporters Sally Kestin and John Maines have unearthed some information that contradicts Matthewman's claim.
In Sunday's paper, Kestin and Maines report:
The cop clocked at 120 mph on Florida's Turnpike last fall offered the trooper a familiar explanation: He was late for work.The revelations about Lopez's speeding habits are part of a series of stories on the danger speeding cops pose to the public they serve.
Miami Police Officer Fausto Lopez was often in a hurry, a Sun Sentinel investigation found. Commuting from his home in Coconut Creek to Miami, he routinely blew through Broward County at speeds law-abiding citizens can only dream of driving.
In the year before his Oct. 11 traffic stop, Lopez averaged at least 90 mph on 237 days.
He hit speeds of 100 mph or higher on 114 days, an analysis of SunPass transponder records shows.
Lopez, 36,stood out as the most frequent speeder of all the cops whose toll records were examined by the Sun Sentinel.
His attorney, William Matthewman, of Coral Springs, said he would have to verify the analysis before commenting.
“Officer Fausto Lopez is a good driver,'' he said.
“Certainly, he at no time has put any member of the public in any type of danger.''
In Sunday's paper, Kestin and Maines reported that....
A three-month Sun Sentinel investigation found almost 800 cops from a dozen agencies driving 90 to 130 mph on our highways.In Monday's paper, Kestin and Maines report that "21 people have been killed or maimed in Florida by speeding cops since 2004." Kestin and Maines also found...
Many weren't even on duty — they were commuting to and from work in their take-home patrol cars.
The extent of the problem uncovered by the newspaper shocked South Florida's police brass. All the agencies started internal investigations.
"Excessive speed," Margate Police Chief Jerry Blough warned his officers, is a "blatant violation of public trust."
The evidence came from police SunPass toll records. The Sun Sentinel obtained a year's worth, hit the highways with a GPS device and figured out how fast the cops were driving based on the distance and time it took to go from one toll plaza to the next.
Speeding cops can kill. Since 2004, Florida officers exceeding the speed limit have caused at least 320 crashes and 19 deaths. Only one officer went to jail — for 60 days.
A cop with a history of on-the-job wrecks smashed into South Florida college student Erskin Bell Jr. as he waited at a red light in Central Florida three years ago, hitting him at 104 mph. Bell is now severely brain-damaged.
"Every day, you pray for a miracle,'' said his father, Erskin Bell Sr. "Had this officer's behavior been dealt with, maybe he would not have run into our son.''
Law enforcement officers have been notoriously reluctant to stop their own for speeding, and the criminal justice system has proven no tougher at punishing lead-foot cops, records show.
That sense of impunity infuriates many Floridians. Those concerns erupted in October, when a state trooper clocked Miami Police Officer Fausto Lopez driving 120 mph through Broward County on his way to a moonlighting job.
"They think that they have carte blanche. Who's going to catch them? Who's going to do anything about it?" said state Sen. Steve Oelrich, a Gainesville Republican and former sheriff.
"Something needs to be done."
• Many officers were not racing to a crime scene — they were responding to routine calls, speeding for no valid reason or just rushing to work.
• Speeding cops are often spared severe punishment in the criminal justice system. Cops found at fault for fatal wrecks caused by speeding have faced consequences ranging from no criminal charges to a maximum of 60 days in jail.
• Inside many police agencies, speeding isn't taken seriously until it results in tragedy. Even then, some cops are disciplined but stay on the job — and the road.
• The dead include seven police officers who crashed at speeds up to 61 mph over the legal limit.