RUSKIN — Jorge Soria crashed into a 13-year-old boy on a bicycle on New's Year Eve and kept driving, authorities say.
Now, the 35-year-old Ruskin man is in hiding with the help of his family, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
"They know very well where he is, and they're being elusive," said Sgt. Steve Gaskins, a spokesman for the patrol.
Investigators say Soria was driving a green 2002 Chevrolet Suburban south on U.S. 41 about 7:20 p.m. when he struck Cameron Fuller, who was trying to cross the road south of College Avenue on his black BMX bike.
Soria kept driving, investigators say. Cameron was not wearing a helmet. Thrown to the pavement, he was critically injured.
Tips pointing to Soria as the driver soon poured into Crime Stoppers, Gaskins said. Within a week, investigators found the Suburban at the home of Soria's mother in the 2600 block of 39th Avenue SE in Ruskin, he said.
Soria was already wanted by authorities in Manatee County on a felony warrant for other driving infractions, Gaskins said. His driving record was not immediately available, but Soria's driver's license has been suspended since September 2014, when he was deemed a habitual traffic offender, according to Gaskins.
Gaskins said Soria likely wasn't at fault in the crash because Cameron probably darted out into the road and was not in a crosswalk at the time. But leaving the scene of a crash involving injury is a third-degree felony in Florida punishable by up to five years.
Records show Soria has been arrested in Florida more than a dozen times since 2001 and found guilty of driving without a valid license, marijuana possession and providing false information to a metals recycler.
Gaskins said Soria's partner, Elizabeth Ochoa, and his other family members say they don't know where he is, but investigators don't believe that.
"They could help us get our hands on him," he said. "They are protecting him."
Gaskins said he spoke with Ochoa and asked her to think of Cameron's family.
"I told her if this was your child in the hospital, you would want us to do everything we can to put the guy responsible in jail so he can pay the penalty," he said. "She was in tears. She said they have kids together and the kids miss him."
In a phone interview Thursday, Ochoa denied that she knows Soria's whereabouts.
"I've been calling and calling, hundreds of times," said Ochoa, 35. "I don't know where he is."
Ochoa said she last Soria on New Year's Eve, before he left for an overnight shift cleaning fish at a fish house in the Ruskin area. The couple have been together 13 years and between them have seven children from previous relationships. Five of them live with the couple in Ruskin.
Ochoa, who works as a prep cook, described Soria as a good father and a hard worker. He has poor eyesight and was trying to handle his outstanding driver's license issues so he could get his commercial driver's license.
She said he has called her from a private number and she has urged him to come home.
"I honestly don't know what he's thinking," she said.
Meanwhile, Cameron's family has marveled at his recovery.
The boy was in a medically induced coma for about a week after the crash, but doctors do not believe he'll suffer serious long-term effects, his mother, Natasha Wood, said Thursday. He's wearing a neck brace for now.
"He just started getting better and better every day," Wood said. "It's amazing."
Cameron was with a friend riding home from the Ruskin Recreation Center on a bike he got for Christmas when the crash happened. He should have been home before dark, but was late, Wood said.
Wood said he doesn't remember the crash. He has a new bike and is impatiently waiting for doctor's permission to ride again.
Anyone with information about Soria's location is asked to call the FHP at *347, local law enforcement or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-873-8477.
Times senior news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.