Crime

Woman in wrong-way Miami wreck was drunk, records show

Norman Mello and his dog
Norman Mello and his dog Family photo

This week, Norman Mello would have celebrated 13 years sober.

But his family could not rejoice with Mello. He was killed while riding his motorcycle six months ago by a motorist driving the wrong way on Interstate 95 in Miami. Relatives instead learned what they suspected all along: police confirmed that the driver who killed Mello was drunk.

Newly released court records show motorist Clarissa Maria Vargas, 22, had a blood alcohol content level of 0.189 – more than double the legal limit. State troopers last week arrested Vargas, of Kendall, on charges of DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide.

“He was in the wrong place, wrong time,” said Mello’s brother, Scott Mello.

The awful irony of his death by a drunk driver was not lost on relatives, who described Mello as a recovering alcoholic who devoted himself to helping others get clean.

“My brother was a mentor for a lot of young people,” Scott Mello said. “He was young at heart.”

Norman Mello, 42, was a lift operator at the Lauderdale Marine Center who also enjoyed boats, dogs and rebuilding antique cars with his older brother.

His death drew hundreds to a memorial at a weekly car show in Davie, an event Mello attended regularly for a decade. His friends and supporters rode in a procession to honor Mello.

Like his brother, Mello was a motorcycle enthusiast who was riding his Yamaha bike to South Beach to meet up with buddies on the night of July 19.

Just before 8 p.m., Vargas was driving her Acura TL north on the southbound lanes of Interstate 95, not far from the interchange with the Dolphin Expressway.

According to the Florida Highway Patrol, a Dodge Ram swerved to avoid hitting Vargas. Her Acura, however, plowed directly into Mello with such violence that his bike lodged into the passenger compartment of her car.

Mello, who wore a helmet, was hurled to the ground. He died on the scene.

She was rushed to the hospital with serious injuries. There, medical staff drew the blood sample that showed Vargas was still drunk nearly three hours after the wreck, according to the warrant prepared by Cpl. James Card and prosecutor Denise Georges.

Vargas was the only person in the Acura. Investigators, armed with a warrant, this month searched her impounded car – to retrieve any car computer data or possible DNA definitely placing her behind the wheel.

Investigators have yet to determine exactly where Vargas entered the wrong way of the interstate.

She voluntarily surrendered last week, according to her lawyer, Daniel Lurvey. Vargas has been released from jail on a $30,000 bond. She faces arraignment on Jan. 22.

“Ms. Vargas and her family are devastated by the tragic result of this horrible accident,” Lurvey said. “Their heartfelt sympathies go out to the Mello family.”

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