An obviously frustrated state judge delayed the sentencing Wednesday of a driver in the hit-and-run of a young University of Florida student who died in December 2020 after the man’s lawyer said he has been hospitalized since Sunday.
Alachua County Circuit Judge Phillip Pena was confused about the development and scheduled a new hearing Friday to learn specific details about the hospitalization of Joshua Alexander Figueroa, 32, of Gainesville. He said he did not want to draw out the criminal case any longer for either party.
“There needs to be closure for both sides,” Pena said.
The prosecutor’s office was informed of Figueroa’s hospitalization on Tuesday, and the judge found out in the hearing on Wednesday morning, said a spokesman for the state attorney’s office, Darry Lloyd. Wednesday’s sentencing hearing had been scheduled nearly three weeks ago.
“The state was ready to move forward and get the case resolved today,” Lloyd said. “That didn’t happen.”
Figueroa’s defense lawyer, Robert Rush of Gainesville, said he was unable to provide the court Wednesday with documents about the nature or cause of his client’s hospital stay due to health privacy laws. Rush and Figueroa’s family declined to answer questions from reporters after the hearing about the nature or cause of Figuero’s hospitalization or the type of hospital where he was staying.
The state attorney’s office proposed two solutions to Figueroa’s absence from the courtroom: The defendant could join via Zoom from the hospital later Wednesday and could be taken into custody from there, or – if Figueroa were discharged by Friday – they could set a sentencing hearing for that morning.
The judge said the first option is not feasible for a number of reasons and he would prefer a case management hearing on Friday to find out exactly what is happening.
The judge said if Figueroa were released from the hospital this week, he would be willing to sentence him Friday. If the stay is prolonged, he would sentence him at a later date.
“Any date, once this is ready to proceed, I will make arrangements to do what I have to do to accommodate the resolution of the case,” Pena said.
Figueroa had already pleaded no contest to a felony charge of leaving an accident scene involving a death. He was arrested in July, after a seven-month police investigation.
The judge had previously rejected as too lenient a proposed sentence of four years in prison, 10 years of probation and the loss of his license for three years. The family of the student, Maggie Paxton, 18, of Jacksonville, had also objected and were not in attendance on Wednesday.
Police said Figueroa was passing another vehicle at night through a dark intersection when he struck Paxton, who was crossing one of the busiest streets bordering the campus against the light and outside the established crosswalks. He was accused of fleeing the scene, and police found his damaged BMW days later hidden among cars at his father’s auto body shop.
The accident was one of the driving forces behind decisions by the city and university to overhaul pedestrian safety near campus, including lowering the speed limit to 25 mph, installing speed humps and ticketing hundreds of drivers during a police crackdown.
Police said Figueroa called friends in the hours after the accident, including a conversation with a local drinking buddy, Marc Painton. Police on June 30 interviewed Painton, who told them that Figueroa met him later that night and acknowledged he had hit “something or someone” crossing the street and did not stop. Neither of them called the police. Officers arrested Figueroa the day after their conversation with Painton.
This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The reporter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can donate to support our students here.