Relatives of victim appear in court as DUI manslaughter suspect appears before judge

Joseph Franco, 27, accused of using nitrous oxide before crash

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – Joseph Franco was back in court Thursday as he faces new charges of DUI manslaughter, reckless driving causing serious injuries and vehicular homicide. 

The charges stem from a July 2018 crash that killed South Florida attorney Amir Pelleg, 34, and sent his wife and two young children to the hospital. 

"It was necessary to see who has hurt my family, who ensured my kids won't have a role model or a father to get them through life, or my husband to be with us," Pelleg's wife, Zulma Guillot Pelleg, said. 

Guillot Pelleg was in the courtroom as Franco's private attorney argued that the case against his client was circumstantial. 

"There's no witnesses presented saying he was driving unusually until he suddenly veered off," Robert S. Reiff said. "There are literally thousands of reasons that could have caused him to veer off unrelated to any criminal act."

Prosecutor Laura Adams, however, wasn't buying Reiff's argument.

"In many other crimes, including murder, those cases are proven every day in courthouses like this through the use of circumstantial evidence -- logical inferences that can be made from the totality of the circumstances," she said.

Franco was first arrested in November and charged with evidence tampering. Police said Franco, 27, was driving a Honda Odyssey last year when he veered off the road and plowed into the family members as they walked on a sidewalk in Sunny Isles Beach. 

Police said witnesses saw Franco dispose of a black duffel bag moments after the crash.

The bag was filled with several used and unused nitrous oxide canisters, known on the street as whippets, authorities said. 

Police believe Franco was using them before the crash, which impaired his ability to drive safely. 

Franco was ultimately ordered held in lieu of a $77,500 bond. He will be placed on house arrest if he posts bail.

About the Author:

Liane Morejon is an Emmy-winning reporter who joined the Local 10 News family in January 2010. Born and raised in Coral Gables, Liane has a unique perspective on covering news in her own backyard.