To hear the mother’s anguish shatters the heart.
Andrea Nicole Castillo had just celebrated her 21st birthday when her life ended in a Hialeah police-involved car crash last month. Now Andrea’s mother, newly elected Miami-Dade School Board member Susie Castillo, is calling for an independent investigation.
“As a mother and as a citizen I’m demanding an independent investigation from an independent agency,” Castillo, who grew up in Hialeah, told reporters last week. “What happened to her should not be unanswered. . . . This should be independent, this should be transparent.”
Absolutely, yet Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez, a former police officer, remains stubbornly unfazed. He feels insulted that anyone might question the city’s integrity in handling this investigation.
It’s maddening that the mayor doesn’t see a conflict, doesn’t see the need to bring peace to a mother’s heart.
The Hialeah police report blames Andrea’s boyfriend, Marco Barrios, for running a stop sign Oct. 19 before 10 p.m. when his Jeep Compass was heading north on East Ninth Court. It crossed paths on the dry road with on-duty Hialeah detective Raul Somarriba, who was heading east in an unmarked car on 49th Street in Hialeah. The impact flipped the SUV, and Somarriba’s car jumped the median. The officer was airlifted to the trauma center, but the couple was taken by ambulance.
Why the disparity? Hialeah officials say it was based solely on the gravity of the injuries, yet Andrea has died. Somarriba and Barrios are hanging on.
Castillo prayed for a miracle but it was not meant to be. Her daughter was brain dead, and disconnected from life support a couple days after the crash, after her organs were donated. In the end, her death will help others survive but that is little consolation.
Now Castillo’s mission is to get to the truth, to find the peace that escapes any parent faced with the unexpected and violent death of a child.
Why doesn’t the Hialeah mayor understand this? Why resist having an outside agency investigate the crash so as not to leave any questions unanswered?
If there’s nothing to hide then why not have Miami-Dade Police investigate, as Barrios’ attorney, John Leighton, asked in a letter sent to the mayor and Police Chief Sergio Velazquez on Oct. 23?
Leighton says Hialeah police have “intimidated” the owners of gas stations and other businesses with surveillance cameras near the intersection of the crash from releasing the video to the public. Barrios’ lawyer insists the 23-year-old did make a stop, and that skid marks at the crash site and witnesses point to the officer speeding.
Obviously, when lawyers get involved, lawsuits are in the works, and Hialeah officials will say they are protecting city taxpayers from financial assault. But I can’t imagine anyone would want to protect taxpayers at the expense of the truth. Again, if there’s nothing to hide, why not have an independent investigation?
There are too many questions about what happened that remain in dispute. The police report says Andrea and her boyfriend were not wearing seat belts, yet Castillo says she saw bruises on her daughter’s torso that suggest she was wearing a seat belt. Leighton also made public photos of Barrios showing bruises across his shoulder. Also, Barrios’ left clavicle and pelvis were fractured, potential indicators of seat belt use.
“It really hurts,” a devastated Castillo told reporters last week. “Her whole future was ahead of her. More than anything else what she wanted was to become a teacher. My family and I have a lot of unanswered questions.
“I grew up in Hialeah. . . . Honestly, as someone who loves that city, I’m very hurt,” she said of the city’s stonewalling.
I’ll never forget Susie Castillo’s smiling eyes when she spoke of her daughter this summer. Castillo was meeting with the Herald’s editorial board, seeking the board’s recommendation in the August election. She got it, based on her knowledge of public education issues (she worked for the district for 11 years before becoming assistant to the mayor of Doral) and based, too, on her passion as a mother of two who attended public schools. (Her son, Andrea’s younger brother, is a senior at Ronald Reagan High School.)
“My mother taught in Hialeah, and now my daughter is going to be studying education,” a proud Castillo said then.
Andrea Nicole Castillo was a student at Miami Dade College, helping teach at Doral Academy and about to enter Florida International University. On a recent Friday night, whether because of human negligence or by God’s hand, her life was extinguished. Her mother, brother, family and friends cry out for answers. Only an independent investigation will extinguish the anguish, bring a modicum of peace to a devastated family.
Only a stone-cold heart would deny them that.