Dressed in black from head to toe, a Florida International University student choked up as she pleaded guilty Thursday to running over a federal agent on a South Beach sidewalk and fleeing in her Mercedes-Benz after a night of drinking last year.
“I know my acts have caused a lot of pain and suffering to a lot of people,” Jordana Rosales, 23, told Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman. “I want to take responsibility for that. I’m truly very sorry.”
Sitting a few feet away from Rosales was the widow of the vehicular-homicide victim, Homeland Security Investigations Agent Scott McGuire, who died days after the Jan. 15, 2016, tragedy. McGuire, 41, was from Mississippi and had worked as an HSI agent for 15 years, most recently in the New Orleans office.
“I don’t even have words to express what an amazing man he was,” Suzy Rivera, standing with the couple’s young son, told news reporters outside the courtroom after the wrenching plea hearing. “He loved his job.”
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Asked about Rosales’ apology for her husband’s death, Rivera said they were “just words” and that she made “bad choices.”
Rosales, of Coral Gables, faces at least 4 years and as many as 50 years in prison for her guilty plea to vehicular homicide, leaving the scene of an accident involving death and reckless driving. Two related DUI manslaughter charges were dropped by the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office.
But under state sentencing guidelines for her trio of offenses, the judge has the latitude to imprison Rosales from 13-1/2 years to 50 years. Whether Hanzman decides to give the FIU coed a sentence below the low end of those guidelines for killing the federal agent remains to be seen. On Thursday, Hanzman asked both sides to write a memo specifying the grounds that would allow him to give her a sentence under the low end.
Rosales is scheduled for sentencing on Nov. 29, close to when her trial would have started.
Her defense attorney, Juan Gonzalez, told reporters that her guilty plea was the “right thing to do under these circumstances.” He said Rosales, who is taking medication for depression and anxiety, has seen her young life as a college student “crushed.”
The Miami-Dade courtroom was packed with family members and friends of both the defendant and the victim, including the special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in Miami, Mark Selby. He declined to comment.
According to police reports, Rosales’ fate was sealed one month after the crash when — after initially lying to detectives — she admitted she was drinking before she plowed into McGuire and another federal agent just past 2 a.m.
Prosecutors David Gilbert and Sara Imm charged Rosales with DUI manslaughter — even though her blood was never tested because she fled the scene of the crash that killed McGuire — as well as four other offenses, including vehicular homicide.
Video surveillance showed her club hopping and she was seen driving her Mercedes erratically down Collins Avenue.
Miami Beach police said McGuire and another agent were on the clock and had just hailed a taxi when Rosales, in a 2015 Mercedes-Benz E250, made a “wide U-turn” into the intersection on Collins. Instead of stopping, she veered right, up onto the sidewalk and rammed into McGuire and the other agent, according to an arrest report.
Miami Beach police said Rosales — her car’s windshield significantly damaged — took off south on Collins, never stopping. The police department immediately released details of the car to the news media.
At 8:38 a.m, some six hours after the crash, Miami police found the car at the luxury Mint condos in Brickell, thanks to a tip from the building’s security guard, who had heard about the crash on the radio.
Detectives found Rosales and a man named Jabran Sayed inside unit 2309, according to a warrant. She initially provided “a false statement” but eventually confessed to being the driver who plowed into the agents.
The police seized the Mercedes’ “Electronic Data Recorder,” a computer that can pinpoint where the car was at the time of the crash.
Police reports show that her own friends — three passengers in the Mercedes-Benz during the crash — helped detectives unravel the story behind agent McGuire’s death.
One friend said that Rosales had indeed been with them at the W Hotel on South Beach, where she downed “over 10 drinks,” many of them gin-and-tonics — a story backed up by video surveillance from the club. That friend, Sayed, “described the defendant as drunk.”