Maritza Medina dropped her daughter at school Wednesday morning and never came home.
The 47-year old mother of two crossed paths with a man who had mortally wounded a woman and her daughter, then led police on a wild, two-county chase that ended when he barreled into Medina’s Mercedes in the far reaches of Broward County.
The impact was so fierce that Medina was ejected when her sedan spun around and split into pieces, scattering metal upon a field on the edge of the Everglades along U.S. 27 shortly before 10 a.m.
As the smoke cleared and Broward sheriff’s deputies arrived, the gunman, Antonio Feliu, 48, fired at least one shot, initiating a tense hourlong standoff with SWAT teams armed with high-powered rifles.
Television stations covered the drama live from helicopters as the law officers surrounded his SUV.
Despite knowing Feliu was armed, one Broward Sheriff’s deputy ran out into the open field and dragged Medina out of harm’s way in the hope that she was still alive.
“He certainly put himself in danger to get her to safety, but unfortunately, she had already died,’’ Broward Sheriff Scott Israel said afterward.
The standoff ended when SWAT teams launched a 40mm canister at the gunman’s rear window, shattering it. They found Feliu slumped behind the wheel, dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Feliu’s cross-county trail of terror began about 9:30 a.m. when he shot his estranged girlfriend and then turned the gun on her daughter, killing them both in the efficiency they were renting in the 12300 block of 190th Street in South Miami Heights. Neighbors said they heard three shots about 7:30 a.m., but thought it was fireworks.
His ex-girlfriend, Vivian Gallego Martinez, 51, was pronounced dead at the scene. Her 28-year-old daughter, Anabel Benitez, was rushed to Kendall Regional Hospital, where she died.
Homicide detectives are still trying to determine what led to Feliu’s rampage. Records show that Feliu had a litany of traffic infractions and a 2009 arrest for drunken driving. However, there was no history of domestic problems at the address, according to Miami-Dade police.
As police cordoned off the scene, a neighbor recalled seeing Feliu driving the new Mercedes the day before.
“He waved at me yesterday when he drove by. He’s waved before,’’ Clinton Woodson said. But few neighbors knew the family well. The mother and daughter have lived in this country for about five years after emigrating from Santa Clara, Cuba.
The victims’ Facebook pages show them smiling with a newborn infant and fussing over their Yorkshire terrier. Benitez had taken classes at Miami Dade College.
“It’s just a terrible, terrible tragedy,’’ Israel said at a news conference at the scene of the crash.
Meanwhile, by mid-afternoon, cars had filled the driveway at Medina’s home, and family, friends and neighbors struggled with the news.
Her daughter, a high school senior, said she last saw her mother when she dropped her off at school Wednesday morning.
“My dad came to school when I was at lunch. He was crying, and I knew something was wrong,’’ the daughter told WSVN Channel 7.
She said she didn’t know it would be the last time she saw her mother..
“I said ‘goodbye, mom,’ ” the daughter said tearfully of their parting Wednesday morning. “You never really know when you are going to see her for the last time.’’
Neighbors in the upscale community said Medina had been married to her husband, Diego, for about 25 years. She apparently worked in real estate, and records show she also owned a home-improvement business at one time.
“She was always smiling,” said next-door neighbor Ron Dover. “She was just the nicest lady.”
Neighbors said Medina would likely not have been on U.S. 27 had it not been for road barricades that have been the source of an ongoing feud between officials of Southwest Ranches and Pembroke Pines.
In recent years, Ranches closed three north-south streets to prevent Pines motorists from cutting through their neighborhoods. The barricades forced them to take U.S. 27.
“U.S. 27 is known for being dangerous,” said neighbor Frank Crandon. “This should have never happened.”
Medina was the secretary of the Trails of Pembroke Pines Homeowners Association and lived in the well-manicured home with her husband and daughter. Medina also has an older, grown daughter who no longer lives at the home.
Crandon said the family would spend weekends on another property they own in Central Florida, riding horses.
“They were just a good family,’’ he said.
About 5 p.m., two mangled cars were removed from the scene. Zachary Luck, who lives nearby, saw the crash on television. He pointed out that Medina could have been anyone’s mother, daughter, sister or friend; she was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“I can’t believe how reckless someone can be,” he said of the man in the Mercedes. “What a coward.”
El Nuevo Herald staff writers Melissa Sanchez and Maria Perez contributed to this report.