Family in Marlins stadium tragedy identified; Jumbo's driver charged with DUI manslaughter
Three family members from Georgia and two church leaders were among seven killed in three separate crashes over the weekend.
07/01/2012 5:00 AM
07/02/2012 2:03 PM
In a tragic prelude to a holiday week, crashes by out-of-control vehicles have taken seven lives — including three members of a single family and two church leaders — in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
The deadliest occurred in Little Havana on Saturday: A van plowed into a family from Georgia walking to their car after an afternoon baseball game at the new Marlins Park.
They were on the sidewalk when they were struck down. Killed were a 13-year-old girl, a 14-year-old boy, a 50-year-old woman and the driver of the out-of control minivan. All were pronounced dead at Jackson Memorial Hospital, Miami police said.
A surviving 10-year-old girl was in extremely critical condition Sunday night.
A fifth family member, a man in his 60s who was unhurt but witnessed the horrific accident and was overcome with grief, was also hospitalized.
Miami police identified the dead on Monday. They are: Esther V. Terrero de Diaz, 53, Franklin Abraham Diaz, 14, Adriana Maria Diaz, 13. Listed in critical condition: Magdeline Esther Diaz, 10. The family was visting from Lawrenceville, Ga.
The minivan’s driver, identified Sunday as Raul Herberto Ortega, 67, is believed to have suffered a medical emergency just before losing control of his red 2006 Dodge Caravan, police said.
Neighbors of Ortega, who lived about 20 blocks west of the stadium, said his daughter was heartbroken about her father’s death and the lives he accidently ended. They said she learned that her father had suffered a heart attack while behind the wheel. Police asked anyone who noticed Ortega driving erratically before the crash to contact them.
“She was very sad for those kids,” said Carmen Santi, 55, one of Ortega’s neighbors who received a visit. “She told me that she felt sorry for the small children and for her father.”
The fatal accident happened about 7:30 p.m. after the Miami Marlins defeated the Philadelphia Phillies.
Police said Ortega swerved, and his eastbound van hurtled toward the sidewalk. It jumped the curb, crashed through metal handrails and plowed into the family in front of an apartment building at 1760 NW Seventh St., about a block from the stadium.
A passing bicyclist was grazed by the runaway van but not seriously injured.
About the same time in Liberty City, there were two more deaths.
Two church leaders had stopped to grab a bite at the landmark Jumbo’s Restaurant at 7501 NW Seventh Ave. As they stood outside, a speeding pick-up truck flew out of control and slammed into them.
One victim was sent flying into the restaurant as the truck pushed one of the victims’ parked vehicle into the restaurant’s front wall, shattering three window panels and leaving a gaping hole.
Killed were Wilton Harris, 60, and Al Jo Hamlin, 61, police and relatives said.
The driver, Antonio Lawrence, 53, was charged with two counts of DUI mansalughter and was jailed on $30,000 bond, according to Miami Herald news partner CBS4.
Community activist Ken Knight said Sunday that both church leaders had been regular customers for decades. “Our focus is on the family and loved ones right now,” he said.
Harris’ wife, Renee, and his sister, Anna Harris, came to Jumbo’s Sunday morning, trying to come to grips with the suddenness of his death.
“My daughter called me, hysterical, and she was saying, ‘Mom, I think Uncle Wilton got killed,’ ” said Anna Harris. “I’m lost for words.”
Harris preached at St. Barnabas William Church, 5871 NW 24th Ave. Knight said Harris would regularly come to Jumbo’s on Saturdays to fine-tune his Sunday sermons.
The second victim, Hamlin, was a deacon and founding member of the Greater Peace Missionary Baptist Church in Miami Gardens. A memorial service for Hamlin is scheduled for this coming weekend at the church.
On Sunday, Knight and other witnesses expressed anger at the driver of the truck, who they said appeared be drunk when he stumbled out of his vehicle. “People, when they’re drinking, their cars becomes a lethal weapon,” he said.
The driver was held for questioning after the crash, police said. It was unclear late Sunday what charges he faces.
The seventh victim in the rash of fatal crashes died about 1 a.m. Sunday in Pembroke Pines.
Police said a white, two-door Nissan spun out of control, hit the curb and slammed into a concrete utility pole near the Shops at Pembroke Gardens, in the 900 block of Southwest 145th Avenue.
The impact, which split the vehicle in two, caused the front-seat passenger to be ejected. He died at the scene. Police did not identify him, but said he was 22 years old.
The driver, 21-year-old Kevin Singh, was hospitalized with noncritical injuries.
The multiple crashes during the weekend are reminiscent of several crashes in mid-May that left 10 people dead in the region within a 24-hour period.
Miami Herald writer Margaux Herrera contributed to this report.
A previous version of this article incorrectly attributed Ken Knight as Jumbo's owner.
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