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State attorney: Investigation still open in accident that killed school board member’s daughter

Hialeah Police Chief Sergio Velázquez said on Sunday that the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office decided not to charge either driver in a 2012 car crash that killed the daughter of Susie Castillo, member of the Miami Dade School Board.

But on Monday, the State Attorney’s Office said the investigation remains open, although prosecutors hope to reach a conclusion in “the near future.”

“The review of this investigation has not been closed,” said Tere Chavez, a spokeswoman for the State Attorney’s Office, in an email. “Just last week, our office received additional reports related to this issue.

“As standard procedure, the State Attorney’s Office reviews all traffic fatalities involving a police officer, just as the State Attorney’s Office reviews all cases where the officer uses his gun. A lot of time is needed to adequately review these types of incidents, to evaluate all the evidence and witness statements, physical evidence, and the opinions of experts in accident re-construction.”

The discrepancy is the latest twist in the tragic and controversial case.

Velázquez said prosecutors made their decision two months ago and that detective Raúl Somarriba had been reinstated to perform “limited tasks.” Somarriba survived the October 2012 crash of his unmarked police car with the SUV carrying Marco Barrios and his girlfriend Andrea Castillo, who died just after her 21st birthday.

“That was very sad, an unfortunate tragedy in which nobody won,” Chief Velázquez told El Nuevo Herald on Sunday. “She [Susie Castillo] lost her daughter and two other youths were very affected.”

Velázquez, however, said the city of Hialeah still faces legal action in a civil lawsuit in the case. In May, Susie Castillo and Barrios sued the city for negligence.

Carlos Silva, an attorney for the Castillo family, has questioned the response of the Hialeah rescue unit, which transported Somarriba to the hospital by helicopter while Andrea was taken by ambulance to the Jackson Memorial Hospital, where she died. The lawsuit also states that Somarriba was driving at twice the speed permitted in that area.

On Sunday, Castillo said briefly in a text message that the investigation was following its course. El Nuevo Herald could not reach attorney Silva. Hialeah Mayor, Carlos Hernández, declined to comment.

Velázquez’s statement was made two days after another Hialeah police officer was involved in another car accident that also took a life. Amado Arcia Lapido, 36, died at Jackson Memorial Hospital after a car crash with police officer Robert Morales.

Velázquez said that investigators interviewed a witness who was in a car also heading east on 49th Street next to the Chevrolet patrol car driven by Morales on Friday at about 5 a.m.

“The witness was driving to work next to the patrol car,” Velásquez said. “He has offered an affidavit saying that the light was green when the patrol car crossed the intersection.”

Velázquez added that in the case of Andrea Castillo, investigations have indicated that Detective Somarriba was driving on 49th Street at 60 to 62 mph and not double the speed limit, as stated by Castillo’s attorney. The speed limit was 40 mph.

“Somarriba had just verified on his computer the information about the license of a suspect and he was speeding up to go after him,” Velázquez said. “At that time there had been several robberies at gas stations and he was beginning to follow up.”

Andrea was riding in the front passenger seat of Barrios’s Jeep, which was trying to cross 49th Street when the Crown Victoria driven by Somarriba impacted it.

Velázquez said that Somarriba had an impeccable record with no traffic fines, and though he was involved in two other car accidents, investigations concluded that he had not been responsible. He added that the detective is still in therapy and had had three surgeries after the violent crash.

The case prompted an intense controversy after the attorney Silva alleged on several occasions that the Hialeah police were trying to cover up the investigations.

The case even caused tensions with authorities of the city of Doral, where Susie Castillo worked as assistant to then-Mayor Juan Carlos Bermúdez.

Velázquez said that his department collaborated from the beginning with the State Attorney’s Office in the investigations and that he had even also requested the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to assist with the case.

“Doral’s former police chief contacted me and I offered to gave Mrs. Castillo the preliminary information we had,” Velázquez said. “But after being refused I sought her attorney [Silva] to give him the information [...] I understand that this is a difficult situation in which nobody won.”

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