TAMPA — A makeshift memorial decorated with stuffed animals and pink balloons now stands at the corner of Osborne Avenue and 15th Street.
Shortly before 10 p.m. Friday, 12-year-old Natalia Leonard rode her bicycle into a crosswalk there and was struck by a white 1999 Ford van. The driver didn’t stop, and the girl was dragged for about 200 feet. She later died at Tampa General Hospital.
Tampa police arrested Geraldo Rivera, 48, at his home a few hours later and charged him with leaving the scene of an accident involving death.
Rivera, who lives at 909 N. 26th Ave., has been arrested multiple times for driving without a valid license, jail records show.
On Friday night, police said, he drove the van north on 15th Street, stopped at the red light and then made a right turn onto Osborne Avenue, where he struck Natalia.
Police officials said they found it hard to believe the van’s driver didn’t realize he was dragging the girl and her bike.
Rivera drove to his house after the accident, police said, where officers arrested him. He was being held at the Hillsborough County jail on $15,000 bail.
One of Natalia’s teachers has set up a donation site at GoFundMe.com to help with her family’s expenses.
Natalia lived with her mother and twin brother at 1210 N. Boulevard, neighbors said.
Stacie Kersey, who lives next door to the family, said her son occasionally played baseball or rode bikes with Natalia and her brother, Frankie.
“They’re very respectful kids,” Kersey said. “They don’t cause no problems.”
She didn’t know Natalia’s mom well, Kersey said, but she had heard the children were spending the summer at their dad’s house.
If Natalia had been with her mom, she wouldn’t have been allowed to ride her bike that late at night. Kersey said.
“I got goose bumps,” Kersey said, recalling how she felt when she learned what happened to Natalia.
Kersey’s son, 9-year-old Jodiyan, drew a picture of a heart with Natalia’s name inside it. “I wish I could see her one more time,” he said.