• FDLE staffing shortages impacting local investigations

    By: Lorena Inclán


    JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - On the night of Nov. 16, you can hear the desperation in the voice of Haley Smith's friends as they called 911, frantically trying to save her life.

    Just hours later, Smith would die in surgery.

    Nearly nine months after the 15-year-old was run over, the driver who hit her is still not identified.

    The St. Johns County Sheriff's Office recovered a side mirror at the scene on Kenton Morrison Road that investigators said could fit different types of small pickup trucks and SUVs. They also have pieces of a front grille, and some paint chips.

    All the evidence had to be processed by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, but getting it all back felt like an eternity for Smith’s mother, Jo-Lee Manning.

    "You wonder if there is a piece of evidence just sitting there waiting to be processed and if by the time they process it, is too much time going to pass, it's not going to be useful," said Manning.

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    Action News told viewers back in January how staffing shortages delayed evidence testing in local cases, and many positions remain open today.

    The department had to deal with 108 vacancies, and 54 of them are in the investigations and forensic science services department.

    FDLE officials said despite the shortfalls in staffing, they have slightly closed the gap for turnaround times for evidence testing.

    In January, the turnaround time for trace evidence was 217 days, that's 102 days more than the standard.

    Now the turnaround time is 190 days, 115 days is the standard.

    The FDLE said it lost employees in the trace evidence department to retirement and while training new employees it takes the employee and trainer away from 100 percent work output.

    In the meantime, Jo-Lee Manning, Haley's mother, is dedicating herself to keeping Smith’s story alive. She said she will never lose hope.

     “Definitely to find some justice for Haley, to get some closure. But also to help the other families and not accept that this is the way things are done I'm going to fight for change all around,” said Manning.

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