RIVERVIEW — Before dawn on a Tuesday in June, Adam Pruski sat idling in his car at the exit of his sleepy suburban neighborhood east of Tampa.
Wearing his Performance Foodservice polo, Pruski waited at the stop sign at Bloomingdale Ridge Drive for traffic to clear on U.S. 301 so he could turn right and head to work. He was thinking of stopping at the RaceTrac for an energy drink.
He never saw it coming.
The big white Chevy Silverado pickup heading north on 301 failed to make the curve, swerved, lost control and came smashing into the driver’s side of Pruski’s 10-year-old Toyota RAV4.
The pickup driver got out, unsteady on his feet. Then he disappeared.
Pruski opened his eyes in a hospital bed. Angry stitches snaked up the length of his abdomen. He ached from metal pins that surgeons inserted to hold his bones together.
His first thought: Can I even move my toes?
Luck and lawyering
Nine months later, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Kimberly Fernandez was on the bench with a busy docket.
Because of the coronavirus, the lawyers, defendants and interested parties appeared not in the courtroom but onscreen via Zoom. Pruski, 35, logged on from home, waiting for the judge to call the case of Corey Ben Cofer.
First came Kevin Hayslett, Cofer’s lawyer. Hayslett had handled hundreds of DUIs as a prosecutor, defended DUI manslaughters and represented Hulk Hogan’s son in a crash that severely injured a passenger.
Then Cofer was onscreen. He hadn’t attended previous hearings. Pruski had only seen his jail mug.
“How do you plead?” the judge asked.
”Guilty,” Cofer said.
But instead of the felonies he originally faced — DUI with serious bodily injury, punishable by up to five years in prison, and leaving the scene of a crash with serious bodily injury, punishable by up to 15 — Cofer was looking at a single misdemeanor and probation. Restitution to the victim would be a fraction of what Pruski still owed in the aftermath of the wreck.
How the case got there is a tale of luck and lawyering, of the nuances of evidence, the hard edges of the law and an imperfect justice system that sometimes seems not all that just.
“I was just sitting there,” Pruski said, “trying to go to work.”
Through his lawyer, Cofer, 42, declined to be interviewed for this story.
A woman driving to work on 301 saw the whole thing. Shaken, she called 911.
She would later report a man got out of the white truck, wobbling, trying to stay on his feet. He was “kind of chunky,” white shirt, long black hair, maybe a mustache. He looked at the car that had been hit. Then he was gone.
“He disappeared,” she would later say in a deposition.
More than an hour later, investigators got a tip about a “suspicious male” about a mile away. They found Cofer. He was shirtless and disoriented, covered with scrapes, cuts, leaves and dirt, according to court records. A Florida Highway Patrol trooper noted it looked like the inside of his forearms had “airbag marks.” Airbags in the truck had deployed, according to the trooper.
Cofer was given his Miranda warning — his right to remain silent — and declined to speak with investigators.
In his room at Tampa General Hospital, Cofer couldn’t stand up on his own and had a hard time getting to the bathroom, Trooper Ronald Drake said. Drake did not smell alcohol but suspected drugs.
“I attempted to ask Mr. Cofer what happened in the crash today,” the trooper wrote in his report.
“Mr. Cofer stated he was in a crash; however, he was not going to play any games,” the report said. “Mr. Cofer stated, ‘I knew exactly what happened this morning.’ ”
But without evidence to put Cofer behind the wheel, authorities could not legally obtain a sample to determine if there were drugs or alcohol in his blood.
Four screws in his pelvis
Elsewhere in the same hospital, doctors were working to save Adam Pruski.
He suffered lacerations to his kidney, liver and spleen, a collapsed lung, broken ribs and teeth. Doctors put four screws in his pelvis. He stayed three weeks and spent three months in a wheelchair.
A husband and father of three — a daughter, 11, and sons 6 and 8 — Pruski went on long-term disability, which paid about 70 percent of what he had been earning. Cofer’s car insurance company paid out $10,000. Of that, $7,000 paid off what the Pruskis owed on their T-boned Toyota.
The new Chevy Silverado in the hit-and-run was registered to Affordable Acoustics Inc., according to law enforcement. State records list Cofer as president of that company, which works with acoustic ceiling tiles and lists the same address as Cofer’s home in Riverview. Cofer posted bail to get out of jail and hired an experienced lawyer.
Pruski wanted to file a lawsuit to recover damages and pay bills. But law firms he approached declined to take his case. He said they told him that Cofer didn’t have enough insurance or other sources of funds to go after.
Pruski didn’t know if doctors would clear him to go back to work driving a semi and hefting heavy boxes. His wife took on extra hours at her job as a Spanish interpreter for a bank, businesses and courts. They set up a GoFundMe page, hoping it would help.
“If he’d taken one more second taking the trash out” that morning, said his wife, Victoria Pruski.
“If I’d left, like, a minute earlier,” Pruski said.
Cofer’s criminal trial was scheduled for March. But his lawyer was already on the offensive.
Hayslett filed a motion arguing that anything Cofer said after he invoked Miranda — including telling the trooper he had been in a crash — should not be allowed in as evidence.
Another motion argued police had no legal reason to stop Cofer in the first place. The tip that led investigators to him was about a “suspicious male who is engaged in sexual exhibition near the exit gate of a nearby neighborhood.” Cofer was walking down the street and “not engaged in the type of untoward behavior that had been described.” He also was “not reasonably suspected of having been involved in the car accident,” the motion contended.
If one or both of those motions were granted by a judge, there could be little or no evidence to put him behind the wheel that morning. There would likely be no case left to take to trial.
An offer for a plea deal came in February.
The defendant would pay $13,000 restitution — the amount of Pruski’s medical insurance deductible — and get probation. No, Pruski told prosecutor Chloe Wells. He wanted jail time and “not a penny from him.”
When he was 18 years old, Pruski was charged with misdemeanor DUI, which was reduced to reckless driving. He didn’t damage property or hurt anyone. He worked off his community service hours taking in donations at the local Goodwill.
If Cofer’s case went away without a plea agreement, he would end up with no sentence at all. Pruski couldn’t sleep thinking about it.
“It doesn’t seem like he should get off totally free,” he said, “when he left me there for dead.”
Better than nothing
At the court hearing, the felony DUI with serious bodily injury charge disappeared. Leaving the scene of an accident with serious bodily injury was reduced to misdemeanor leaving the scene without mention of injuries.
Cofer’s 2001 conviction in Texas for driving while intoxicated and his 2013 DUI arrest in Sarasota County, reduced to reckless driving, were not mentioned.
His sentence: A year of probation that he could ask to have ended early. No community service. Restitution to the victim would be $16,200 — $12,000 up front, $350 a month.
Pruski had tallied $55,785 he still owed from the crash, including medical expenses and $5,000 to replace the family car.
He knew the plea deal was coming. He had finally, reluctantly, agreed to it. Something had to be better than nothing.
“Do you have any questions, sir?” the judge asked Cofer.
“I do not,” said the defendant, who spoke fewer than a dozen words at the hearing.
Grayson Kamm, spokesman for Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren, said prosecutors face a choice when the evidence is weak or “just not there.”
“We can roll the dice at a trial with a slim-to-none chance of winning, or we can take steps like we did here to deliver at least some justice for the victim and hold the defendant accountable,” he said.
Cofer’s lawyer said his client is paying Pruski restitution “that will hopefully help part of his out-of-pocket damages.” He called the justice system both imperfect and the best that exists.
“I don’t think anybody who reads this would not have sympathy for (the victim’s) position,” Hayslett said. “Everybody involved in this case empathizes with him.”
At the hearing, Pruski had an urge to speak. He wanted to ask the judge if he could lift his shirt and show the defendant the thick scar down his middle, evidence that this happened. But no one asked him.