Two survivors of a crash on U.S. 27 that killed three people won't face street racing charges, even though authorities concluded that racing-related activity was involved, says a newly released report from the Florida Highway Patrol.
Highway Patrol investigators, relying on physical evidence and witness statements, alleged that Angel Lazo, 19, and Raymon Garcia, 20, "were staging for a racing competition" on the desolate highway when the collision happened in December 2010, the traffic homicide report said.
Though the drivers, both of Miami-Dade County, received no street racing charges, they have since been issued non-criminal citations accusing them of improperly stopping their cars on U.S. 27 near the Everglades, about seven miles north of Alligator Alley in Broward County, court records show.
A semitrailer rear-ended their Integra and Honda Civic, killing three passengers: Anthony Perez, 19, Ileana E. Mira, 19, and Dairon Ledesma, 15, all from Miami-Dade. Lazo, Garcia and two others were injured.
The Highway Patrol said it consulted with the Broward State Attorney's Office after recommending misdemeanor street racing and negligence charges, in addition to the traffic citations. The State Attorney's Office, citing the pending cases, said it could not provide documents about why only citations were pursued.
Lazo's lawyer, Paul Jon Layne, said the absence of charges was validation that the drivers weren't drag racing and challenging the traffic tickets will be the next installment of the yearlong crash saga. A Broward court hearing for both defendants is scheduled Wednesday.
"Our client wasn't doing anything wrong," Layne said. "He just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time."
Lazo, who according to his lawyer suffered a skull fracture, told the news media the day after the crash that he wasn't racing. He said he was having car trouble and instructed Garcia to follow behind him as he pulled over, according to news reports.
"All I remember is my car started doing something, misfiring," Lazo said at the time. "So I told Raymon, 'Raymon, get behind me. Follow me. I'm going to pull over, up ahead.'"
In a phone interview this month, Garcia's mother, Yanes Legra, 40, said her son suffered a brain injury and has no recollection of the crash. Garcia and his family have yet to regain normalcy, Legra said.
"Unfortunately, his friends perished. It wasn't his fault," she said. "Everyone has suffered from that case." Of the pending citations, she said, "We just want everything to come to an end."
Lazo's lawyer and relatives of those killed in the crash have scrutinized the actions of the semitrailer driver, who was cleared of wrongdoing by the Highway Patrol. "He's a professional driver who has to anticipate problems and disabled vehicles and things on the road," Layne said.
According to the Highway Patrol report:
The crash happened about 12:30 a.m. Dec. 9, and several witnesses interviewed by troopers described a night of street races and flashy cars on display along U.S. 27, a dark highway that mainly runs north and south, with two lanes in each direction.
A witness said about 15 cars were parked to watch, while an Integra, Civic and another vehicle were in the roadway. The Integra and Civic were at one point stopped side by side on the roadway, witnesses told investigators.
Under questioning by a trooper, the semitrailer truck's driver, Placid Ferdinand, 43, from Crosby, Texas, said that when he was farther south on U.S. 27 before the crash, he saw an Integra and Civic making a U-turn from the southbound to northbound lanes of the highway.
Later, Ferdinand was in the right northbound lane when an unknown car made a sudden lane change from behind his vehicle into the left northbound lane.
The car's headlights produced a blinding glare to Ferdinand's sideview mirror. That delayed Ferdinand's perception of the Civic and Integra, both of which were stopped ahead in the lane the semitrailer truck was in.
The cars had their headlights activated and taillights illuminated, but neither had its brake pedal engaged. That left any driver behind them to likely think the cars were moving.
The brake lights not being activated gave Ferdinand "no time to avoid the hazard ahead," considering the weight of his semitrailer, the highway's 65 mph posted limit and the lack of overhead lighting on the road.
When Ferdinand realized the cars were parked, he tried to stop but could not. He said he was unable to swerve in either direction because of the many parked cars and spectators on the shoulders and medians of U.S. 27.