Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that Scott Toth has posted bond.
For nearly 2 ½ years, Olga Ramos’ life has been fraught with challenges.
When her close friends, Amauris Carralero and Nadia Tomasi, were killed by a wrong-way driver in August 2011, Ramos, then 32 with no children of her own, became a legal guardian to two teenage boys. It suddenly fell on Ramos to usher Humberto into the Army and Sebastian toward Naples High School’s graduation in May, all while helping them grieve the loss of their mother and stepfather.
Her latest challenge: explaining to the boys the pending legal matter involving the driver facing charges, whose dementia diagnosis figures to complicate an already drawn-out court case.
"They’re saying he had dementia, and now he could get off because it’s going to be hard to prove he willfully did it," Ramos, now 34, said Monday. "I feel bad for him, but he killed two of my friends. That’s not going to bring them back, but these kids need to feel some justice."
With prosecutors disclosing publicly for the first time Monday that Scott Toth, 53, had been diagnosed with dementia before the crash, another measure of uncertainty has been cast over the vehicular homicide case against the Miramar man. Florida Highway Patrol troopers have said Toth was driving the wrong way down Interstate 75 near Miami when he slammed into a vehicle in which Carralero and Tomasi were passengers, killing them and their unborn daughter.
In an email, Miami State Attorney’s Office spokesman Ed Griffith said Toth’s dementia "may have contributed to the crash," and the diagnosis "has also been a factor" in the nearly 2½ years it took to reach a decision on filing charges.
At the scene, Toth told troopers he was driving to Tampa and didn’t know what caused the crash shortly before 5 a.m., according to an arrest warrant. FHP troopers said they found Toth wasn’t intoxicated and his car had no defects. At the time, Toth had a valid license to go with a spotless driving record, state records show.
The extent of Toth’s dementia and his state of mind at the time of the crash remain unknown. Those factors could influence whether Toth is declared competent to stand trial — a judge ordered a competency evaluation Monday — and if he’s held responsible for the crash.
In the past, Florida courts have ruled that a jury must find a vehicular homicide defendant knowingly operated a vehicle in a reckless manner likely to cause death or great bodily harm. Toth’s dementia could make that a high burden to meet, Miami-based defense lawyer Michael Catalano said.
"That’s a very, very strange twist of facts for a felony vehicular homicide case," Catalano said. "If the person has dementia, I’m scratching my head on how you prosecute for that."
Leilani Doty, co-director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Initiative at the University of Florida Memory Disorder Clinic, said dementia patients can exhibit many different traits behind the wheel, making it difficult to predict a defendant’s level of lucidity. The smallest changes in habit — a change in signs, a new building on a corner, a new allergy medicine — could trigger a lapse, she said.
"There’s a little bit of unpredictability to it," Doty said.
Toth posted $5,000 bond Monday night from a Miami-Dade jail. He will be required to wear a GPS monitor and can’t drive a vehicle. He didn’t have a lawyer listed in court records, and efforts to reach him and any family members in recent days have been unsuccessful.
If he’s found incompetent to proceed, a judge has several options, ranging from ordering treatment while out on bail to commitment to a mental health facility.
For Ramos, many questions remain: How was Toth allowed to drive if he suffered from dementia? Will he bear any consequences for the crash? Does he feel remorse for the crash? Can he?
Ramos said she’s hoping for some incarceration, whether in jail, prison or a mental health facility. She’s not certain that will happen.
"Just put him away where there’s no chance of him being out on the road and doing this to another family," Ramos said. "Because this has been hard. It’s been a complete change in everyone’s life — for the boys, for myself, for all the families involved."