For the widow and two daughters of Walter Reyes, the first steps toward closure began away from the courtroom.
In a law office last month, they met with Alejandro Alvarez, who killed Reyes in a drunken-driving crash on the Rickenbacker Causeway. The soft-spoken 21-year-old college student sobbed in apology.
“When he spoke, I saw how bad he felt,” said Jennifer Reyes, 20, Walter’s daughter. “I looked at him and I thought, ‘Wow, he’s only one year older than me.’”
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Reyes’ widow, Maribel, was equally moved. “Maintaining anger and bitterness in my heart will not change anything at all and it is not something Walter would want me to do,” Maribel Reyes told a judge on Tuesday. The Reyes family officially blessed a plea deal that will allow Alvarez to serve two years in prison — far below the 4-year term normally required by law. “This is closure. I’m at peace,” Maribel Reyes told the Miami Herald. “I need this chapter closed.”
Alvarez pleaded guilty to DUI manslaughter in the early-morning Jan. 21 wreck that killed Reyes, 59, a gregarious real-estate company executive, and severely injured his friend, lawyer Henry Hernandez, as the two cycled down the causeway.
The death of the cyclist on the causeway — the third in the past five years — also spurred road improvements designed to make the popular route safer.
Alvarez will spend two years in prison, followed by two more years of community control, a type of house arrest. He must also complete 10 years of probation, in which he’ll be required to speak to students about the dangers of drunken driving.
Maintaining anger and bitterness in my heart will not change anything at all and it is not something Walter would want me to do.
After their private meeting, Jennifer Reyes said she may one day join Alvarez in speaking to students. “I can present the other side,” she said.
“Alejandro was grateful for the opportunity to meet the families in person and express how incredibly sorry he was,” said David O. Markus, the defendant’s lawyer. “He had wanted to do this from the very first day. It was truly a moving experience.”
Alvarez’s family has also settled a civil lawsuit filed by the Reyes family, who pushed prosecutors for a plea deal that focused on rehabilitation over a long prison term.
Tuesday’s hearing was also about celebrating Reyes’ life — his family sported custom-made pendants: bicycles with red handles, just like his in real life.
The chief financial officer of the real-estate firm Keyes Company, Reyes was born in Miami. He was active in charity circles, working with the United Way and Dolphin Cycling Challenge. He also ran a leg of the 2014 Winter Olympics torch tour in Miami.
More than anything, his family recalled, Reyes doted over his wife and daughters. He danced with his wife in the rain after one charity event, and took her wine tasting in France for their 25th wedding anniversary.
“I will no longer have the man next to me that made me a cappuccino every morning with little hearts and flowers,” Maribel Reyes said. “I will no longer have the man that made silly jokes at the dinner table.”
Alvarez was a University of Maryland student home for break on the day of the crash.
While partying at a South Beach nightclub, Alvarez had at least five drinks. As he was driving home past 5 a.m. he was looking at his iPhone to change songs when he hit the cyclists, prosecutor Denise Georges told the judge. Scared, he drove to his Harbor Drive home, smashing out his rear window with a golf club to “fake a robbery.”
But Alvarez soon called 911 and an operator told him to go back to the crash scene. Police noted he was “hysterically crying” when he returned, admitting to being the driver of the car. Alvarez failed a roadside sobriety test and refused to consent to a blood sample.
Tests show he had a blood alcohol content level of .115, well above the legal limit of .08, two hours after the wreck. Alvarez also tested positive for marijuana.