Guilty plea planned in DUI crash that killed young Miami mom
Just weeks after giving birth to a little girl, Rachel Foster died when a suspected drunk driver plowed into the young mother on the side of the Palmetto Expressway.
In the aftermath of the June 2016 crash, the child’s father moved to a small East Texas town, taking the infant named Savanna with him. In February, police say he beat Savanna to death with a hammer. A Texas police captain called it a “crime scene of nightmares.”
Rachel Foster and her 2-year-old daughter are now buried side by side in a Miami cemetery, linked by their untimely deaths.
“It’s a blessing for us. After all of this suffering, at least to have them together is a consolation,” said Delia Foster, the mother of Rachel and grandmother of Savanna.
While the double tragedies have shattered the Foster family in South Florida, Tuesday brought a tiny shred of solace. Lawyers announced in court that Leonardo Morciego, the accused drunk driver who killed the 24-year-old Foster, will plead guilty to DUI manslaughter and other felonies.
Morciego next week will accept a sentence of five years in prison, prosecutor Laura Adams told Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Alan Fine. After he is released, Morciego will have to serve two years of “community control,” a type of house arrest, then four years of probation.
“For me, it’s a huge relief that I can go to the cemetery and tell my daughter that justice is being done,” said Richard Foster, Rachel’s father.
The youngest of five siblings in her family, Foster had just graduated from Miami Dade College with a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education. An avid dancer who also attended a performing arts college in California, Foster worked at a daycare in Miami, and was planning to become an elementary school teacher.
She met her boyfriend, Yovahnis Roque, online. Her mother would later learn that her daughter said Roque suffered mental health problems and would sometimes lash out violently at her. Roque had one run in with the law in Miami-Dade — he was placed on probation for selling marijuana in 2015.
The car crash happened on the night of June 19, 2016, when Roque’s car ran out of gas on the side of the Palmetto Expressway near Northwest 57th Avenue. Foster arrived with a neighbor, got out and was standing next to their cars.
That’s when Morciego, driving a BMW 328i, careened onto the shoulder — plowing into Foster and Roque.
Foster was killed. Roque was critically injured.
Morciego, 48, was unharmed. Florida Highway Patrol troopers noticed him standing wobbly by the guardrail, slurring his speech. He fell asleep in a Miami-Dade Fire-Rescue vehicle, after twice vomiting.
At 9:58 p.m., a little over three hours after the crash, his blood-alcohol content level was recorded at more than double the legal limit. A couple of hours later, another blood sample showed he was still drunk by twice the legal limit, according to prosecutors.
Morciego did not address the court on Tuesday.
Roque, now 26, was relegated to a wheelchair following the crash. He remained in Miami for a few months, as Foster’s parents helped raise Savanna.
“He couldn’t keep up with her,” Delia Foster said.
He moved to Texas to be with his mother, then moved back briefly to Miami. But last September, he decided to take the curly-haired toddler back to Orange, a town of about 18,000 just across the Louisiana border.
Foster’s parents didn’t want Savanna to leave Miami, but they had no recourse. During his time in Texas, Roque went dark — only once allowing the child to talk with her grandparents in Miami, via FaceTime video chat.
“She was so happy to see us. She was blowing us kisses and she tried to hug the phone,” Delia Foster said.
Then came the shocking news.
On Feb. 19, a relative of Roque’s in Texas called police to report the killing of the child. Officers found Roque naked and bloody in the front of the house. He blurted out that he had killed his daughter, according to Orange Police Capt. Robert Enmon.
“In my 29 years, it was the most horrific crime scene I’ve seen,” Enmon said in an interview with the Miami Herald.
At the police station, Roque did not give a full confession. “He gave us bits and pieces of what happened,” Enmon said.
During his first court appearance, Roque told a Texas judge that the “government made me do it,” according to a report by the KFDM news station. A friend from Miami, Abner Santiago, told the Beaumont Enterprise that Roque had been sending him cryptic messages about “all-out war.”
“He was messaging me weird coded messages about the world ending,” Santiago told the newspaper. “He wasn’t like this before when I knew him back in Miami.”
Roque is charged with capital murder and faces the death penalty.
Since Roque is technically the child’s next of kin, it was unclear whether Savanna’s remains would be allowed to be sent to Miami. But with help from law enforcement and with cooperation from the Roque family, Savanna was returned to Southwest Miami-Dade to be buried at the Caballero Rivero Woodlawn South cemetery, alongside her mother.
Said Delia Foster: “The fact they are resting together is the best we can ask for under the circumstances.”