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posted May 24, 2010, 4:46 PM by Elisa Myer   [ updated May 24, 2010, 4:56 PM ]

Mother Killed, Child Hospitalized After Crash

Posted: 10:53 am EDT May 24, 2010Updated: 6:03 pm EDT May 24, 2010

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. -- A young mother was killed Sunday night in a crash and her 4-year-old daughter who was with her was hospitalized after being badly injured. Eyewitnesses told WFTV the driver who hit her was a street racer. They said the woman's car was hit head-on by one of the racers. State troopers say the crash was far worse, because no one in either car was wearing a seat belt. They also say the driver who caused the crash had been ticketed for speeding two times before, but for now they don't believe the incident involved street racing. Xavier Mendez does not know how he and his family will carry on. "She was my everything. I'm sorry," Mendez said, crying. His wife of seven years, 22-year-old Stephanie Natal Rodriguez, was killed Sunday night in a head-on crash on Goldenrod Road approaching Curry Ford Road (see map). The driver of the car that hit her, 22-year-old Jhoan Escobar-Grajales, went speeding through the grass median and some witnesses are sure he was involved in a street race. "They were racing in the middle of all the traffic. They were racing by us. And the next thing you know, we heard a bang. It sounded like a bang. She thought it was a tire blowing out. We come out and we see this," witness Matt McCormick said. But state troopers say, so far, they have no evidence to back that up. "We have to dig into that deeper and make sure it's not just two cars going fast beside each other and they were actually in a competition," Kim Montes of the Florida Highway Patrol said. Investigators have not been able to interview the driver who they say caused the crash. Jhoan Escobar-Grajales is in critical condition. In the meantime, the Mendez family must not only mourn the loss of a mother of two, but have to figure out how to explain to 4-year-old Xaniels Mendez-Natal that her mother is gone. "It’s a 4-year old who, when she wakes up, we have to explain to her where her mom is," family friend Rachel Cintron said. Xaniels suffered a fractured cheek and jaw and her left leg is broken in three places. "And it's going to be really hard on her, because right now she's there asking for her mommy,” Mendez said. The victim did not have life insurance. Friends have started a trust fund through Bank of America; you can simply contact a location and say you want to give to the Mendez Fund. The crash remains under investigation and charges are pending.

Deputies Crack Down On Street Racing

Posted: 10:27 pm EDT May 23, 2010Updated: 10:39 am EDT May 24, 2010

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. -- A street racing problem in Orange County is getting even worse, Orange County deputies said. Eyewitness News rode along with deputies, as they cracked down on the growing issue Sunday. The Orange County Sheriff's Office asked Eyewitness News not to reveal its tactics in catching street racers and the people who gather to watch them. But they did name some of the hot spots causing trouble for the county, including Presidents Drive, Wetherbee Road, and roads along Orlando International Airport. Deputies say this year, there's an increase in arrests and tickets. "A lot of people do it for money, for the title, for fun", said one driver who was pulled over by deputies. Spectators can also be fined, just for watching or riding along in the car. "I didn't know that," said one spectator who was fined $229. The Governor is expected to sign a bill into law that could take away licenses and increase fines to $5,000 for convicted street racers.