Miami-Dade County

The FIU bridge victims died too soon, but they touched many along the way

They were the unlucky ones.

The six victims — husbands, students, lovers — who perished when a pedestrian bridge meant to link the campus of Florida International University to the city of Sweetwater, were stopped at a red light when the bridge crashed down across eight lanes of traffic on Southwest Eighth Street.

Their unexpected deaths shocked family, friends and strangers across South Florida and beyond, who for days waited in anguish as the vehicles of their loved ones were extricated from under 950 tons of concrete.

But make no mistake: In life, they were the lucky ones.

Each of the six victims were beloved members of their families, remembered by many for their joy, love of life and the impact they had on those who remain.

Alberto Arias, 53

Alberto Arias

On the morning of March 15, Alberto Arias was in the process of finalizing his elderly mother’s move into his Kendall home.

Arias, who owned party rental business Classic Design Party Rental with longtime partner Osvaldo González, had breakfast with his mother and González before heading out to run errands, and move her last remaining belongings from her apartment to their home.

“I know he told my grandma, ‘I love you,’ they hugged. [He said,] ‘Make me something to eat tonight, picadillo,’ because that was his favorite,” said Arias’ nephew, Luis Arias.

But as news spread of the collapse of the bridge that afternoon, Arias’ mother, who knew it was likely the couple were driving east on Southwest Eighth Street, became worried and started calling her son’s cell phone frantically.

“They called so much that then the phone was not ringing anymore,” said the family’s attorney, Yesenia Collazo. “She said she knew when he didn’t pick up her phone call and they saw his vehicle on the news.”

Arias, 53, studied at the University of Havana in Cuba, according to his Facebook page. He regularly posted videos of vocal performances, particularly love songs. Before his death, Collazo said Arias had plans to teach his niece to dance for her quinces party.

“Life is really something,” Elizabeth Morales, Arias’ cousin, posted on Facebook in Spanish. “Just yesterday, I was praying to God for the people who were there [at the collapsed bridge] without knowing that one of ours was there. R.I.P, cousin. A great human being.”

In the early 2000s, Arias founded his party rental business with González. He and González, who were soul mates, Luis Arias said, were buried together.

“They were together for 21 years — they were partners,” Arias said. “They were together in their ups; they were together in their downs. They were together in their travels and enjoying life and they will be together when they are laid to rest.”

Navaro Brown, 37

Navaro Brown

Jamaican Navaro Brown was working on FIU’s pedestrian bridge, which was meant to provide safe passage for students to the campus, when the bridge unexpectedly collapsed.

Brown, 37, was an employee of Structural Technologies VSL, a company that provides products to strengthen bridges. A spokesman for the company, Michael Biesiada, confirmed Brown’s death. Two other employees were hospitalized at Kendall Regional Medical Center as a result of the bridge collapse.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Brown’s family and with the other affected employees,” he said. “We really appreciate the work of the first responders who immediately offered their help.”

Brown’s cousin, Appleonia Brown, posted on Facebook that Brown was from Mocho, Clarendon, Jamaica. He was a “hard-working, humble youth,” she wrote.

Biesiada wouldn’t say exactly what Brown and the other employees were doing on the bridge when it collapsed, but he said Structural Technologies VSL was working on the project “providing installation support for our products.” According to records, the company was performing “post-tensioning work,” a method for reinforcing concrete, when the bridge crumbled across Southwest Eighth Street, at 109th Avenue.

Photos of the accident show a white Structural Technologies VSL vehicle crushed by debris from the bridge.

Brown’s friend and coworker, Jah Basden, who is a design engineer at VSL, posted on Facebook that he was struggling to cope with Brown’s death.

“I woke up this morning and pain hasn’t gone away,” he wrote. “Damn bro! I going miss u my g [sic]. It’s going to be a rough road wit one less of God’s warriors on the field i promise to live by your example until we meet again rest up bro....”

Brandon Brownfield, 39

Brandon Brownfield

In life and in death, Brandon Brownfield was cherished by his wife of almost four years and his three young daughters.

In the days before Brownfield’s death was confirmed, his wife, Chelsea Brownfield, posted repeatedly on Facebook, updating family and friends and asking them to pray for a miracle.

“Please pray that my best friend is alive and hanging on until help can reach him,” she wrote on the night of the bridge collapse.

The Brownfields have three daughters, Leah, Bethany, and Danielle, who are between the ages of about 10 months and 5 years, said Pastor Ben Stilwell-Hernandez with First United Methodist Church in Homestead. The family has been attending his church since October and had just recently moved into a home in Homestead, he said.

In the hours following the bridge collapse, Brownfield’s family and friends said they could see his truck and license plate under the bridge, but did not know anything about his whereabouts. Brownfield was a tower crane technician at Maxim Crane Works, but was not working on the FIU site.

Chelsea Brownfield confirmed his death on Facebook in a post that has been “liked” by more than 4,300 people, including strangers from various parts of the country who reached out to the family. She called her husband of three years and 11 months her soul mate.

“Like pieces to a jigsaw puzzle, our crazy curvy edges matched and we fit together like no one else could,” she wrote. “Please keep us in your prayers, as I now have to find the words and the answers to tell my girls that their Daddy is not coming home.”

Ryan Lee, a friend of the Brownfields, created a GoFundMe page on the day of the bridge collapse to help the family. The page has collected about $89,000 in donations. In a post, Lee described Brownfield as a “genuine stand-up family man.”

According to his social media profiles, Brownfield worked as a crane technician on several recent developments in Brickell, including the EAST, Miami hotel and the Panorama Towers, the tallest building in Florida. He was from Waynesboro, Virginia, and studied at Brevard Community College in Florida.

Chelsea Brownfield has continued to chronicle her family’s journey since the loss of her husband via Facebook, including a post about her daughter Leah’s first baseball game since his death.

In a post showing a sunset, Chelsea Brownfield wrote, “As the sun dipped below the horizon, I felt you there with me... Holding on to those last minutes of warmth from the sun is like holding onto the last time we kissed goodbye. I replay it over and over again in my mind and I can almost feel you whispering “I love you” in my ear.”

Alexa Duran, 18

Alexa Duran

Alexa Duran was giving her friend, Richard Humble, a ride from a doctor’s appointment on the afternoon of March 15.

The 18-year-old was near the end of her first college spring break, with plans later that afternoon to head to her family’s dry cleaning business, D’Dago, in Hialeah, her friend, Amanda Aponte, said.

Duran, who was driving her father’s gray Toyota 4Runner, was in the second-from-the-right lane heading east on Southwest Eighth Street when the bridge above the car began to creak.

Humble looked up and saw it fall at an angle on top of the car. The roof of the Toyota caved in partly on Humble’s side but more on the driver’s side. Witnesses who rushed on the scene were able to pull Humble out, but Duran was trapped.

“I screamed her name over and over again and I didn’t hear anything,” Humble told told NBC News.

The next day, Duran’s father, Orlando Duran, confirmed to El Nuevo Herald that his daughter had died in the bridge collapse.

“My little girl was trapped in the car and couldn’t get out. She died when the bridge collapsed on top of her car,” Duran said in Spanish, speaking from London, where he was traveling when he got the news.

“This is going to be the longest and saddest trip of my life. I don’t want to return,” he said as he waited for his flight home.

Duran, who was a political science major at FIU, attended Archbishop Edward A. McCarthy High School in Southwest Ranches and Country Club Middle School, according to her Facebook profile. As early as elementary school, at Joella C. Good Elementary in Hialeah, she was a stand-out student, said her fourth-grade teacher, Jacqueline Cobb.

“Teachers are not technically supposed to have favorite students, at least not announce their favorites,” Cobb said. “During my entire career, she is one of my all-time favorites.”

At a vigil at FIU last week, she was remembered by her family, friends and sorority sisters from Alpha Xi Delta for her humor and joy.

“Any person that you asked said she was the funniest person you’d ever meet,” said friend Michaela Reyes, a freshman at the University of Central Florida who went to high school with Duran. “She was a goofball.”

Reyes and Sofia Rincon paid tribute to their friend by revealing a little known fact about her: Duran was a good singer.

Duran kept the talent under wraps until a cruise vacation with friends in June 2017, where she sang Rihanna’s “Stay” to three friends who were leaving Miami for college.

Rincon sang “Stay” and Reyes played the piano as a video played of Duran and Rincon singing together on the cruise.

“I want to sing this song for Alexa because she is always going to stay in my heart,” Rincon said.

Rolando Fraga Hernandez, 60

Rolando Fraga Hernandez

Cuban Rolando Fraga Hernandez was a systems technician who was beloved by his family.

Originally from San José de las Lajas, a town south of Havana, Fraga Hernandez lived in Miami with his wife, Ana Maria Oviedo Garcia, and his 15-year-old son.

He previously lived in Caracas, Venezuela, according to his Facebook profile, and worked as a truck driver. Most recently, Fraga Hernandez worked as a technician at ITG Communications.

After his Jeep Cherokee was one of the cars removed from the rubble of the fallen bridge the morning of March 17, relative Carol Fraga confirmed his death. He was 60.

His home was near FIU and he often took the nearby turnpike to work, relatives told the Associated Press.

“With so much pain in our hearts for your unexpected death, we will remember you and love you forever Tio Rolando,” Carol Fraga, whose husband is Fraga Hernandez’s nephew, wrote on Facebook.

After news of Fraga Hernandez’s death spread, friends posted messages to Facebook.

One friend, Jorge Canela, wrote: “A friend of mine from my neighborhood apparently is among the people who lost their lives in the collapse [of the bridge], Rolando Fraga. I am calling him and he does not answer. My brother, we are all devastated.”

The day before the bridge collapse, Fraga Hernandez shared a quote in Spanish on his Facebook page: “Nothing is forever. Coffee gets cold, people leave, time passes and people change.”

Osvaldo González, 57

Osvaldo González

Osvaldo González was the life of the party.

His family and friends have described him as the “last person to leave at the Christmas party,” a man full of life and love for others.

González, 57, died with his partner of 21 years, Alberto Arias, as the two were on their way to move Arias’ mother’s belongings into their Kendall home. Their white Chevrolet truck was pulled from the wreckage of the bridge the morning of March 17.

“Imagine, his car was as flat as a cracker,” González’s sister, Marisol González, told the Herald.

She said her brother had plans to travel to Cuba the weekend after the bridge collapse to participate in street parties known as parrandas in his hometown of Camajuaní, in the center of the island. González and Arias had traveled extensively, including to Cuba many times, as well Spain and Italy, their families said.

Both were “outstanding beings, full of life, full of joy, always smiling, and always putting others before them,” said Arias’ nephew, Luis Arias.

“[Osvaldo González] was the best thing in the world,” his sister, Marisol González said. “The best brother, friend, very cheerful, with a desire to live life to the fullest.”

Amauri Naranjo, with whom González would stay when he visited Camajuaní, described his longtime friend as a genuinely nice person who very active.

“He was a family man,” Naranjo said in a telephone interview from the island. “He had many friends because he was very communicative and he would help a lot of people here and he would also help with decorating the floats for the parrandas.”

González arrived in the United States during the 1980 Mariel exodus and helped Arias out of the country, Naranjo said from Camajuaní, a town in the province of Villa Clara.

Real estate agent Margend Palacios, who has known González since he helped him with his house five years ago, said he learned of his client’s death on Facebook Saturday when one of his friends shared an article confirming his death.

“He had a lot of plans,” Palacios said. “His death is so untimely.”