BAYONET POINT — An attorney for the family of Jorge Cruz, the Pine View Elementary School student killed last week when his family was struck by a van, said that he has received information that the incident might not have been an accident.
During an emotional news conference in front of Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point, attorney Gil Sanchez Valencia said that he plans to investigate driver John Ryals, 21, who was cited by the Florida Highway Patrol for careless driving in the wreck that killed Jorge, 9, and seriously injured his mother, Anita Pallares, 33, and brother David, 7.
“I've received information that causes us to question whether or not this was an accident, or gross negligence,” Valencia said. “There are other factors, but I can't go into detail. We're aggressively investigating to make sure no stone is unturned.
“We're going to pursue the individual who caused this,” the attorney said. “It's called an accident, but we believe it may have been otherwise. We're not just leaving it to the FHP. They always say that they investigate everything, but we're not leaving anything to chance.”
Valencia added that he would try and determine if there were “design flaws” on the neighborhood street where the crash occurred. The family was walking their dog on Bahia Loop en route to the house of Pallares' sister, Martha Pallares, when they were struck by Ryals' van.
According to the highway patrol, Ryals failed to observe the pedestrians when his westbound 2014 Chevrolet Express van hit the family near Turf Drive at 7:45 a.m. The highway patrol said that alcohol was not a factor in the crash, which also killed the family's Chihuahua.
The family was walking east, on the correct side of the roadway, facing the oncoming traffic, troopers said.
Martha Pallares' voice cracked as she addressed media in Spanish on Monday morning.
“Why is it that when a Hispanic man passes through a red light, he gets arrested. But here, a young Hispanic boy dies tragically” and the driver of the vehicle that killed him goes free? she asked, as Valencia translated.
Neighbors said the Pallares sisters and their kids frequently walked around the neighborhood.
Anita Pallares was expected to be released from the Bayonet Point hospital later Monday, Sanchez said. Besides the emotional pain of losing her son, she will endure months of recovery, as she suffered a broken fibula and wrist. She spent several days in the hospital's intensive care unit, Sanchez said.
Jorge's brother, David Cruz, was released from St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa last week.
Tiffany Sentner, Jorge's teacher at Pine View, said Monday that the boy was quiet but friendly.
“He loved to play outside,” she said. “His favorite part of the day was recess. He always made the right choices.”
Valencia said that the family has not finalized funeral arrangements and faces financial pressure.
A fund to help the family pay for the funeral and other expenses has been arranged at Wells Fargo. Money can be sent to:
Jorge Cruz Memorial Fund, Account No. 9013753844, 10444 Blackmore Drive, Tampa, or money can be donated at any Wells Fargo branch.
“The family is thankful for the community's support, and we ask that you keep them in your prayers,” said Pastor Fersan Canelas of Iglesia de Dios Mission Board.