The cop clocked at 120 mph on Florida’s Turnpike last fall offered the trooper a familiar explanation: He was late for work.
Miami Police Officer Fausto Lopez was often in a hurry, a Sun Sentinel investigation found. Commuting from his home in Coconut Creek to Miami, he routinely blew through Broward County at speeds law-abiding citizens can only dream of driving.
In the year before his Oct. 11 traffic stop, Lopez averaged at least 90 mph on 237 days.
He hit speeds of 100 mph or higher on 114 days, an analysis of SunPass transponder records shows.
Lopez, 36,stood out as the most frequent speeder of all the cops whose toll records were examined by the Sun Sentinel.
His attorney, William Matthewman, of Coral Springs, said he would have to verify the analysis before commenting.
“Officer Fausto Lopez is a good driver,” he said.
“Certainly, he at no time has put any member of the public in any type of danger.”
The unusual traffic stop that led to a charge of reckless driving against Lopez ignited intense emotions among his fellow officers, and some defended him on Facebook and police blogs. But many South Floridians cheered, happy to see a cop for once held to the same traffic laws they must obey.
Lopez’s lawyer accused the media of whipping up controversy.
“He was not going 120 mph as claimed,” Matthewman said in a December interview. “Was he going a little too fast? Very possibly so. I think that this is a minor incident that’s been completely blown out of proportion by the media.”
Lopez routinely drove at least 25 mph over the speed limit on his two-county commute to and from work, the analysis of the SunPass data shows.
On Sept. 9, he averaged 120 mph on one stretch of his drive, and 18 other times topped 110 mph.
Lopez drove faster on his way home in the overnight hours. On his normal route, he took the turnpike north from the Golden Glades interchange past the Cypress Creek toll plaza to the Sawgrass Expressway, where he exited after the Deerfield Beach toll.
At the speed limit of 65 mph, the drive takes 26 minutes. One day Lopez made it in a little more than 14 minutes — thanks to an average speed of 117 mph.
About 1 a.m. on Sept. 30, Lopez averaged 114 mph from Golden Glades to Cypress Creek, and 112 mph from Cypress Creek to Sawgrass Deerfield. The following night, he averaged 115 and 110 mph on the same stretches. His highest average speed was 120 mph.
Lopez joined the Miami Police Department in February 2006. Nine months later, he was cited for careless driving after rear-ending a car in his personal vehicle, but that case was dismissed.
Before becoming a cop, Lopez had one speeding ticket, in 1999, for going 88 mph in a 65-mph zone, according to his driving record. After he got a badge, Lopez sped with seeming impunity — until Oct. 11.
Late for his off-duty job at a school in Miami, Lopez blew by Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Jane Watts in his patrol car on the turnpike near Commercial Boulevard. She followed him for seven minutes and later wrote in a report that he was darting in and out of lanes at speeds exceeding 120 mph.
“This is not a first-time occurrence with y’all,” Watts told Lopez after pulling him over. “Y’all come from that way all the time, this Miami police car, and we never catch it.”
Lopez apologized and tried to explain he was running late.
“With all due respect …,” he said, but Watts cut him off.
“You don’t respect me, sir,” she said. “You don’t respect these people out here.”
The exchange was captured on Watts’ dashboard camera, and video of the traffic stop went viral. Cops lined up to take sides.
Some criticized Lopez for speeding, but many came down against the trooper for drawing her gun on a fellow officer and handcuffing him. Blog attacks on Watts got nasty and personal, and someone smeared human feces on another FHP trooper’s car.
Lopez has pleaded not guilty to reckless driving, a misdemeanor.
Miami Police Maj. Delrish Moss said he could not comment on the case. The Police Department will decide whether action against Lopez is warranted once the reckless driving charge against him is resolved in court, he said.
“Speeding is a big concern for us,” Moss said. “That’s why we have a policy in place. That’s why we take disciplinary action when we find that people are violating our policy.”
In the days following the traffic stop, Lopez slowed down but still drove in the 80s and twice averaged 96 mph, the SunPass analysis shows.
He eased up on the gas pedal after Oct. 28, when news of his traffic stop aired in South Florida and beyond. In November and December, according to SunPass data, Lopez’s top average speed on his commute was 77 mph.