The early morning started out routinely. Thirteen-year-old Kaely Camacho, half asleep and still in her pajamas, climbed into her father’s minivan for a quick ride to her mom’s South Miami-Dade house, where she was to get ready for school.
Kaely reclined slightly in the back passenger seat to snooze. In the front passenger seat was her older sister, Bree Ann, then 16. Behind the wheel, her father, a divorced dad named Kirk Camacho, turned on the radio, softly so as to not disturb his girls.
It was just after 5 a.m. on a Friday, April 13, 2012. The Chrysler van breezed down the usual route along Eureka Avenue toward U.S. 1, Kirk Camacho recounted Wednesday in the trial of Sandor Guillen, the man accused of ending Kaely’s life in a horrifying crash.
Camacho, in the island twang of his native Trinidad, spoke comfortably, though rarely looking up. But his face grew grim, his voice cracked and the tension in the courtroom mounted as he approached the moment of the fatal impact.
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The van passed through a green light and crossed the normally empty U.S. 1 busway. Then, he said, something appeared to his left.
“In a millisecond, I saw what seemed like a flash, followed by a sound. It sounded like a bomb struck,” Camacho told jurors. “My minivan pretty much tore in half.”
Bree Ann shouted. The van flew forward, rolling to a stop down the road. Stunned, Camacho turned to Bree Ann. “Are you OK?”
On the witness stand, Camacho paused. His relatives, seated in the jam-packed gallery, sobbed and held each other.
In the wrecked van, Camacho and his older daughter instinctively looked back in dread. He did not need to describe Kaely’s injuries to the court.
“The whole car was pretty much torn away. Bree Ann looked back and she screamed, ‘No!’ ” Camacho said.
The father stepped out of the van, pried open the sliding back door, and unbuckled Kaely’s seat belt. “Are you OK?” Camacho cried. No answer. Blood streamed down Kaely’s face from a head wound. He lifted her limp body gently from the seat.
Outside on the early morning street, a crowd gathered. Someone shouted about leaking gasoline. Camacho carried his daughter and laid her down on the grass next to a gas station. He felt desperately for a pulse. There was one, but it was weak.
Bree Ann, her ankle throbbing in pain, collapsed on the grass next to her sister. Camacho’s shirt grew red with his daughter’s blood. Paramedics arrived soon, and rushed Kaely to the hospital. She did not survive.
What Camacho did not realize then was that a Range Rover driven by Guillen had collided with them at a speed prosecutors put at over 80 mph — creating a massive impact that drove a backseat cup holder through Kaely’s skull.
“It impaled her,” Miami-Dade prosecutor Laura Adams told jurors Wednesday.
Guillen, 39, is charged with DUI manslaughter, vehicular homicide, leaving the scene of a crash involving a death, and leaving the scene of a crash involving injury. He faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted.
On Wednesday, in the courtroom of Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Ellen Sue Venzer, Adams laid out the case against Guillen in methodical and excruciating detail. Tests showed Guillen had almost triple the legal limit of alcohol in his blood. He was also speeding down a busway that motorists are not allowed to use.
The impact was so great that Guillen’s Range Rover careened more than the length of a football field, uprooting palm trees before spinning away like a “ping pong ball,” Adams said.
Not only did Guillen fail to call 911 or try to help the Camachos, but he stumbled away, ditching his IDs in a clump of bushes. But a police officer, alerted to the traffic accident, spotted Guillen in a nearby field — listening to music on his cellphone.
Guillen claimed he had been “jumped” by unknown assailants, Adams told jurors. But DNA in the blood on the Range Rover’s airbag pinpointed Guillen as the driver of the speeding vehicle, Adams said.
“That coward ran away,” Adams said, looking at Guillen.
His defense attorney, Bruce Lehr, acknowledged that the collision occurred. But he said Guillen, a physical therapy assistant from Coral Gables, was severely injured and disoriented after the wreck.
Lehr also suggested Camacho ran the red light — though during a brief and mild cross-examination, Camacho insisted the light was green.
Guillen’s lawyer also attacked the quality of the Miami-Dade police investigation, suggesting detectives used faulty mathematical calculations to determine Guillen’s speed.
“There is no evidence to show anything more than a collision and, unfortunately, a death,” Lehr said.
The circumstances of Kaely’s death attracted national attention, with the Camacho family appearing on CNN. The city of Palmetto Bay later named a street in honor of the Southwood Middle School student.