Braulio “Ozzi” Perez was a child when he came to the United States from Cuba as a refugee. He eventually got a job as a “change boy” at the Flagler Dog Track and over 43 years, moved up to become the director of operations at the casino.
The product of a broken home, Jonathan Taylor entered foster care as a child, racking up arrest after arrest.
Their lives intersected in January 2016 when Taylor — driving a stolen car — plowed into Perez as the 67-year-old grandfather was on his usual morning bicycle ride in Northwest Miami-Dade. Perez was killed, and Taylor ran away on foot, only to be captured soon after.
On Friday, Taylor accepted responsibility and learned his punishment: 10 years in state prison, plus 10 years of probation. It could have been tougher. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Alberto Milian had the option to sentence him to up to 45 years behind bars.
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“Your youth right now is lost,” Circuit Judge Alberto Milian told him. “Perhaps society failed you completely in juvenile justice system and foster care. I hope for the rest of your life you’ll think about what you did, and the pain you caused to so many people.”
The sentencing for leaving the scene of a fatal car crash and other felonies did not come without heavy hearts on both sides.
One by one, Perez’s relatives told the judge about the the man who came from Cuba as part of Operation Pedro Pan, the exodus of unaccompanied children who fled the Communist regime. Over the years, he had three sons. They bonded over season-ticket Dolphins games. He took up cycling, regularly riding to keep fit and enjoy the outdoors with friends.
Perez adored wine and fancy cheese. He and his wife were planning to retire to Orlando.
“We built an amazing life together,” Debbie Perez told the judge. “I have no regrets — except that it ended too soon.”
As for Taylor, of Hialeah, he was 18 when he was arrested for Perez’s death.
At the time, he had been released on bond awaiting trial for stealing a car. Police said he stole another car, a Mazda MZ6, which he was driving in the 5900 block of Northwest 199th Street. The car hurtled a median, plowing into Perez.
“This was a complete accident and I apologize,” the lanky, shaggy-haired Taylor said.
As the hearing concluded, Perez’s widow blurted out to the judge, asking to approach the teen for one reason.
To give Taylor a hug.
Security rules forbid it. But Debbie Perez, her eyes red and puffy, sent him a hug from across the room. “I’ve lost what he’s lost too,” widow Debbie Perez said. “I’m wishing you the very best. I’m sorry this happened to all of us.”