A month before she died, Alexa Duran told her mother she loved her life.
She loved her political science classes at Florida International University; she loved helping her mom out with her dry cleaning business three days a week; she loved her friends and social life.
Duran, 18, was well on her way to achieving her dream — becoming an international lawyer so she could travel and provide a life of luxury for her mother, who never took vacations.
Then she offered to drive a sick friend to the doctor to pick up a prescription. She called her mom at 1:40 p.m. on March 15 to check in. I’m running late, she told her, but I’m on my way and I’m going to bring you food.
Seven minutes later, FIU’s new pedestrian bridge collapsed on top of her SUV while she and her friend, Richard Humble, were waiting at a red light on Southwest Eighth Street. Humble, 19, survived, but the driver’s side of the car was crushed. Duran was one of six victims.
On Tuesday, her parents held each other and cried inside their lawyer’s office as they recounted the painful days since they learned their youngest daughter died. The couple filed a wrongful death lawsuit Friday against the contractors and engineers behind the pedestrian bridge.
“I don’t have my friend. I don’t have my baby girl,” Gina Duran said as tears streamed down her face.
The dry cleaning business, normally filled with her daughter’s cheerful energy, is quiet now.
“Now I go there, I don’t see here. I don’t smell her. I don’t have somebody to be there with. I’m always going, ‘Alex’ — then I realize she isn’t here.”
Gina Duran said her daughter asked to start helping out in the store when she was 31/2 years old — too young to even see over the counter. That was her personality, her family said, always doing whatever she could to help others.
Even as a baby she would see her dad looking down and put her little hand on the back of his head and ask if everything was OK, said her father, Orlando Duran.
“I’d nod my head … and she would say, ‘Don’t worry, Dad, you still got it,’” Orlando Duran said.
He said the call from his older daughter the day of the collapse came while he was on a business trip in London. He turned on his computer to check the news and immediately shut it off. He made arrangements to come home immediately.
“It was the longest, most painful trip. You have too much time to think,” he said.
Although the collapse happened on a Thursday afternoon, delays kept Orlando Duran from home until Saturday. He arrived in time to see the family’s SUV pulled from the rubble.
“My daughter and the car, crushed” Duran said, moving his palms together in a flattening motion.
The family soon retained a lawyer, Alan Goldfarb, who was already working on a case against the university over the death of FIU student Alexis Dale, who was killed in August crossing the street the bridge was planned to span.
The Duran lawsuit named eight construction and design firms in the complaint, and Goldfarb sent a letter of notice to FIU, the Florida Department of Transportation and the city of Sweetwater that he plans to sue them when the legally mandated 180-day waiting period is over.
Based on emails and documents he requested in the Dale case, Goldfarb said he believes the project was rushed, and the drive to finish on time led to fatal mistakes.
In one email from June 2017 reviewed by the Herald, FIU Chief Financial Officer Kenneth Jessell said that he worried delays would affect the project’s funding.
“I am already 5 months behind schedule, and if we can’t get the 404 permit issued soon it will delay the project even more. Because the funding of this project has a limited time period, I worry about any delay,” he wrote.
Goldfarb said the delay might have been what pushed project managers to swing the bridge into place during spring break and keep the road open to traffic later in the week while last-minute modifications were being made.
“It’s outrageous,” he said. “It’s willful. It’s disregard for the safety of the public. It’s unconscionable conduct.”