Sheriff: Deputy at fault in crash that paralyzed motorcyclist

Pinellas County's sheriff says one of his deputies was at fault in a tragic accident involving a 21-year-old motorcycle driver.

Eli Ulibarri is expected to live, but he'll never be the same.  Making this all the more tragic, today is his 21st birthday and he's spending it in the neuro ICU at Bayfront Medical Center.

The crash happened just before 8 p.m. on MLK Jr. Street in St. Pete.   Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said one of his undercover deputies, Corporal Joe Miner, was in an unmarked car when he pulled out of a Dunkin' Donuts parking lot -- directly into the path of the oncoming motorcycle.

The sheriff says the motorcycle had its lights on, but for whatever reason, the deputy just never saw him coming.

Ulibarri was going eight miles under the 40-mile-per-hour speed limit and tried to stop, Gualtieri said, but his motorcycle slid into the side of the deputy's car.

Two days later, Ulibarri is in extremely critical condition.

"He's expected to live. But he's paralyzed from the mid-chest down. Both lungs were collapsed, his liver and kidney lacerated, he has a brain bleed, his spinal cord was cut in two places and his spinal column fractured," the sheriff stated.

Gualtieri says Miner has been cited for failure to yield resulting in serious bodily injury and will have a court date in February.  He may also face internal discipline.

The sheriff said Miner wasn't distracted at the time of the crash -- he had three other detectives in the car with him and just never saw the motorcycle. He also said Miner is extremely upset over the accident and now has to live with it. 

The sheriff visited Ulibarri's family at the hospital today and handed them a check for $200,000, the maximum amount a government agency can be held liable for in an accident that causes injury.

He said Ulibarri's father was less than thrilled by the gesture.