Nearly two years after two University of Miami graduate students were killed as they crossed Kendall Drive in Pinecrest —and only days before a civil trial is expected to begin — family and friends gathered at the crash site Wednesday for a memorial filled with fire, fruit and flowers.
For the parents of Ying Chen, 27, and Hao Liu, 26, the pain is just as fresh as it was when they learned of their children’s death on Oct. 16, 2013. A Pinecrest woman driving a Porsche hit them around 8 p.m.
“I still talk to him and cook enough for him,” Ping Shen, Liu’s mother, said through a translator, before collapsing in the spot where her only son was killed.
Cars had to swerve around her as she cried out for her son.
Chen and Liu, both pursuing doctorate degrees in electrical and computer engineering, were heading to their off-campus apartments across Kendall Drive at Southwest 68th Court when they were hit. They had just started their doctoral programs.
Milady Pequeno, who lives in Pinecrest, was driving her Porsche with two other people in the car when she struck them.
Pequeno, 47, told investigators she did not see the students walking across the street, according to a police report. Pequeno could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
In 2014, she was found guilty of careless driving and her license was suspended for two years, Miami Herald news partner CBS4 reported at the time.
“I would have done anything, anything, not to hit them,” she said in court, according to CBS4. “I didn’t see them. I would have done anything, given my arms not to hit them.”
But the family of both students — in town from China for the trial — said Wednesday they wanted justice.
“We are disappointed in the traffic laws in Florida,” said Hua Li, Chen’s brother-in-law. “If the same thing happened in China, the driver would be in jail.”
The family is hoping the civil trial, which is expected to begin Aug. 31, will bring some closure.
“I have pain in my heart, day and night, every day,” said Qing Yun Wang, Chen’s mother, through a translator.
Shortly after the crash, the victims’ parents filed a civil complaint seeking damages for their deaths.
In February 2014, Pequeno’s attorney responded to the complaint saying his client should not be responsible for their deaths because Chen and Liu were “comparitively negligent” as they crossed the street becaused they failed to follow traffic regulations regarding governing pedestrians, according to court records.
The family disputes that contention, said Kai Zang, a family spokesman.
Since then there have been depositions and other meetings leading up to the jury trial.
Family and friends said it was important to remember the students who had a bright future. At the corner of the busy intersection about three dozen people came to the memorial, including UM students and congregants from nearby Crossbridge Church. Some brought daisies — a tradition to memorialize the dead.
“We are here for emotional support,” said Yun Yan Chen, who is a member of the church. “We all feel the pain.”
Wang sat in front of a fire — a Chinese tradition — chanting and crying as friends of Chen held her up.
“My sweetheart, how can you leave me behind?” she said.