Driver in hit-and-run crash that killed Austin Manke found guilty

Published: January 7, 2022 12:47 PM EST
Updated: January 7, 2022 5:16 PM EST

The driver in a hit-and-run crash on the Cape Coral Bridge that killed 21-year-old Austin Manke has been found guilty.

Jurors deliberated for close to two hours before returning the verdict.

Clody Gonzalez Vera is accused of leaving Manke to die after the crash in February of 2020.

Gonzalez Vera did not react after the verdict was read. Meanwhile, Manke’s family showed great emotion.

Manke’s mother declined to go on camera, but she said she was happy there was some accountability for her son’s death.

Gonzalez Vera’s family became emotional when they took him away. He faces up to 35 years in prison.

Prosecutor Mara Marzano said she believed the jury made the right choice.

“I never met Austin but I know his family now and I think that he deserves justice and I think today justice was served,” Marzano said.

The trial began on Wednesday and both sides rested their case Thursday afternoon.

Jurors returned to the courthouse on Friday for closing arguments and jury instructions before beginning to deliberate at around noon.

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

At least two witnesses testified they saw a wrecked car matching the description of Gonzalez Vera’s black Nissan Altima near the scene of the crash.

On Thursday, jurors heard from Gonzalez Vera. He testified he believed his tire blew out and caused him to hit a wall on the bridge.

During closing arguments on Friday, prosecutors said his tire blew out because it drove over the debris from the crash after he hit Manke.

“I would suggest that it is not believable that he did not see a bright lime green scooter that he hit right in front of his windshield,” a prosecutor said. “His credibility is your decision. You decide if he is credible.”

The defense said, “what occurred is a horrible, horrible tragedy.”

But Gonzalez Vera’s action after the crash show someone who was oblivious that he hit a human being, the defense added.

“The state wants you to believe that he knew he struck a human being on the Cape Coral bridge and was trying to hide and the first place he pulls over in a well-lit area and he sits there for an hour changing a tire,” said Rene Suarez, defense attorney. “This is not the behavior of somebody who knows they have struck somebody.”

Gonzalez Vera will be sentenced next month.