State, Defense rest case in deadly 2020 Cape Coral Bridge hit-and-run


Thursday marked day two in the trial of 20-year-old Clody Gonzalez Vera. Gonzalez Vera is accused of leaving 21-year-old Austin Manke to die on the Cape Coral Bridge after hitting Manke’s moped in February 2020.

Austin Paul Manke, 21. Credit: Shared with WINK News.

The state rested its case after presenting some final arguments and evidence to the jury.

RELATED: Trial begins for the man accused in a deadly 2020 Cape Coral Bridge hit-and-run

Florida Highway Patrol Corporal Timothy Wargo investigated the crash and interviewed Gonzalez Vera afterward.

The jury heard that interview in court on Thursday. In the recording, Gonzalez Vera claimed he hit the Cape Coral Bridge and never mentioned hitting Manke’s lime green moped.

Corporal Wargo showed the jury lime green paint on parts of Gonzalez Vera’s car.

“There was no damage to the Nissan Altima that indicated he hit the bridge wall.” Wargo told the jury, “when I was asking him if there were any parts of the bridge wall that were green, he said they were not and there’s no green on my car so that kind of caught me off guard that he was defending like you won’t find any green paint on the pieces of my vehicle.”

2015 Nissan Altima impounded by FHP. Credit: FHP.

The state also called an expert who reconstructed the crash and showed the jury the lime green paint and damage on parts of Gonzalez Vera’s bumper that were consistent with hitting the moped, not the bridge.

The defense began making its case on Thursday afternoon.

Their first witness told the jury she and her friend saw who they believe was Manke riding his moped on the Cape Coral Bridge the night of the crash and said that they almost hit him.

Sherry Bernier testified she reached out to Gonzalez Vera’s defense attorney last night when she got an alert from WINK News that this trial was underway.

Bernier said she remembered seeing the moped she believes Manke was riding and that her friend who was driving didn’t see the scooter and almost hit it.

Bernier testified that she called police the next morning when she learned of the hit and run crash to tell them what she saw. “I felt we almost hit him ourselves and he was not visible and he was in a very precarious place being as far over as he was in the left lane and my heart sank. I thought somebody was going to hit him.”

Bernier said the police never contacted her again for more information after that call.

During cross-examination, the state showed Bernier and the jury video of Manke crossing the toll lane onto the bridge.

The state argues the video proves Manke’s lights were bright and he was visible.

Gonzalez Vera took to the stand in his own defense. He testified that he thought he blew a tire and hit the bridge the night of the hit-and-run.

He told the jury if he knew he hit someone he would have stopped and helped.

Gonzalez Vera walked the jury through the night of Feb. 8 and the early morning hours of Feb. 9, 2020.

He testified he never drank any alcohol that night. Gonzalez vera said he and his girlfriend were riding across the Cape Coral Bridge with his girlfriend who was taking a video of him driving. Then they heard a loud noise.

Gonzalez Vera told the jury, “after that, I just heard a bang on my tire. This all happened super fast. As soon as the explosion I heard the air get out of my tire so after that I just continued down.”

During cross-examination, the state argued the defendant had to have known he hit something other than the bridge based on the green paint on his car because the bridge wall is not green.

The prosecutor asked, “you didn’t see this green paint?”
Gonzalez Vera said, “I could have seen it, but I didn’t make anything of it.”
Prosecutor, “you didn’t make anything of it? Was there green paint on your car before?”
Gonzalez Vera, “I collided, hit the bridge.”

The state also argued Gonzalez Vera was speeding while on the bridge and was distracted by his girlfriend.

Prosecutors say he passed numerous parking lots and businesses to pull off at in order to avoid being detected. “You did not want to be found. You knew where this occurred on Cape Coral Parkway Bridge.”

Gonzalez Vera argued otherwise saying, “if I did not want to be found, I think that would be better location because you’re hiding inside a parking lot. I’m not hiding, I’m in the middle of Del Prado, which is a main road. More lighted place.”

Prosecutors also pointed out that Gonzalez Vera quickly tried to repair the car, even driving to Miami the next day to look for parts to fix it. Gonzalez Vera said that it is because it was his dad’s car and needed to get it back to him.

The defense rested its case after Gonzalez Vera finished his testimony.

Closing arguments will begin on Friday morning.

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