Kristen Rivera and Didier Miles were two young Miami-Dade County waiters who came to Islamorada for the annual end-of-season bash for South Florida restaurant industry workers.
But Rivera, 22, never made it out of the Keys alive, and Miles, 24, was flown to Ryder Trauma Center in Miami-Dade in serious condition after they got into a head-on collision with a taxi early Monday evening.
The Florida Highway Patrol said the two PF Chang’s servers were drinking and neither was wearing a seatbelt when the 2007 Honda Element they were in rammed front-first into a Mom’s Taxi Dodge minivan driven by Charles Akullian. Akullian, 71, was taken to Mariners Hospital in Tavernier in serious condition.
FHP investigators are discussing with the state attorney’s office what charges to press against Miles, who was allegedly fleeing another minor accident when he crashed into Akullian’s cab, said Trooper Jose Sanchez, an FHP spokesman. Miles could not be reached for comment, and he requested privacy so Ryder would not release his updated condition, said Beverly Counts Rodrigues, a Ryder spokeswoman.
According to a witness who said he did not want to be identified, a woman driving the Honda Element pulled out of U.S. 1 and rear-ended the witness’ car while driving north on U.S. 1 at mile marker 85. They pulled over and when the witness approached her to get her insurance information, she asked the witness if he would instead accept money for the damage done to his car.
The witness declined her offer and turned around to get something out of his car. In that time, the woman switched seats with her male passenger. The driver, identified as Miles by the FHP, then drove off.
FHP Cpl. Carlos Ruiz and Trooper Nelson Perez said in their report that Miles drove north in the “Left Turn Only” lane and hit Akullian’s 2004 minivan, which was traveling south at the right turn lane. That means the Element crossed all the way over the southbound lane.
The Honda came to a rest at a utility pole on the southbound side of the highway. The impact of the crash caused Akullian’s engine compartment to catch fire. Troopers and Monroe County Sheriff’s Office deputies extinguished the flames.
Islamorada Fire-Rescue Department firefighters freed Miles and Rivera from the Honda and an air ambulance helicopter flew them to Ryder, where Rivera died that night.
Chris Argote, 22, Rivera’s friend and a fellow waiter at PF Chang’s in the Dolphin Mall in Sweetwater, said he was shocked at the accident given Rivera’s disapproving attitude toward drunken driving.
“It’s almost unbelievable it happened,” Argote said. “She was always very safe about not driving if she was drinking.”
Argote said that Rivera, whose goal was to become a firefighter, texted him a few nights before the crash to tell him to get home safely from a party he attended and not to drive if he was drinking.
“She was a great person. She approached everyone with open arms and made them feel like they were her best friend,” Argote said. “She made everyone feel important. She had the best heart.”
Argote described Miles as “a very good guy, as well.”
Jennifer Siatkowski, 22, is Rivera’s cousin. They were born five months apart, and Siatkowski describes their relationship as “more like sisters.” They both went to Southwest Miami Senior High School, from which they graduated in 2009.
“She was never without a smile on her face. She was the person that would always make you smile and laugh. Everyone saw her as family,” Siatkowski said. “A lot of people look up to her. She loved helping others so much that she was pursuing a career as a firefighter.”