Anthony “SonicC” Rodriguez was an electronic dance music prodigy, a rising star from Miami signed to a major label.
Gabriel Hernandez, Rodriguez’s longtime friend, was a Ferguson High graduate attending Miami Dade College whose buddies called him “the life of the party.”
Gisele Betancourt was a student at South Dade Senior High, her recent quinceañera celebration a fresh memory for her friends and family.
Their three young lives came to an abrupt end over the weekend in a fiery wrong-way collision on Krome Avenue in southwest Miami-Dade County that killed them and badly injured four others.
“It’s hard to think about living life or listening to music without Anthony,” said Miami DJ/producer Lewis Martinee of the music group the Casa Brothers. “And we feel for the other families, too. We’re already working on a petition to make Krome safer.”
The wreck happened about 1:45 a.m. Sunday on Krome near Southwest 144th Street, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
Rodriguez, 22, and Hernandez were heading north in a 2004 Chevrolet Cavalier, on their way back to Kendall from a bonfire.
Their car collided headfirst with a 2004 Dodge Durango, which investigators said was driving the wrong way — south in the northbound lanes.
“The Durango improperly changed lanes,” said Trooper Joe Sanchez, a highway patrol spokesman. “The impact was so severe that both vehicles ignited and were fully engulfed in flames.”
The occupants of the Durango were going home to Homestead after a Saturday night wedding, family and friends said.
Erick Betancourt, 19, Gisele’s brother, was behind the wheel of the SUV, according to investigators.
He remained Tuesday at Miami Children’s Hospital, where he was recovering from two broken arms, among other injuries, Sanchez said. Investigators are awaiting the results of toxicology tests before deciding whether to file charges.
Betancourt’s other passengers — his sister Maria and his cousins Julissa Ochoa, 16, and Samuel Domifilo, 24 — also suffered serious injuries and were being treated at area hospitals, investigators said.
On Tuesday, news of Rodriguez’s death continued to spread among electronic dance music fans and artists, with many taking to Facebook and blogs to mourn the loss.
Rodriguez broke out in 2009 with the hit Stickin’ when he was 17. His music made it onto the video game Grand Theft Auto and MTV’s The Real World.
“He was pretty much unknown before Stickin’ and that changed everything,” Martinee said. “It was a chart topper. From there he just kept going up and up, but he always stayed so humble. He was just the coolest guy in the world.”
Rodriguez recorded for Los Angeles music label Dim Mak and had released a new collaboration single called Shake about two weeks ago, under the alias Tony Colorado. He briefly moved to Denver last year to work on new music but had recently returned to South Florida.
His manager, Ben Puig, spoke with him on the phone for the final time on Friday.
“Music was his biggest passion and he wanted to make sure that it became his lifetime job,” Puig said. “We detailed out a future release and how we were going to push it.
“When I received the news Sunday morning my heart sank, my stomach froze, and I thought I was having a nightmare,” Puig continued. “I have played Stickin’ over and over again just to believe that somehow this will be reversed. Nothing will change what happened, but we know for sure that his legacy will live through his music.”
Martinee said the Casa Brothers plan to work with other artists to complete Rodriguez’s unfinished tracks and release them in his memory.
“We want people to know he wasn’t a one-hit wonder,” Martinee said. “His career was just beginning.”
Rodriguez had graduated from G. Holmes Braddock Senior High. His friend Hernandez was a graduate of John A. Ferguson Senior High and had been attending Miami Dade College, according to friends.
“Everyone knew him as the life of the party,” Ely Rojas said of Hernandez to WPLG-Local 10.
Gisele Betancourt had been a student at South Dade Senior High. She had recently celebrated her 15th birthday with a traditional quinceañera party.
“She was just a very nice person all the time, and it’s good to have friends like that around. She was very cheerful around people,” 17-year-old Michael Vandenedez, a classmate of Gisele’s at South Dade, said to WPLG. “It sucks to see a nice person go.”
Friends of Rodriguez and Hernandez memorialized the men in a candle ceremony Sunday night at Westwind Lakes Park in West Kendall. The Betancourt family was mourning the loss of Gisele at their Homestead home.
Krome Avenue is a two-lane roadway where motorists often try to pass slower drivers in front of them, an especially dangerous maneuver at night, Sanchez said.
“It’s dark out there,” he said. “You have to drive very carefully. When you attempt to improperly pass people, you can expect that traffic headed your way is the traffic going in the opposite direction.”
Miami Herald writer Gregory Castillo contributed to this report.