PLANT CITY, Fla. — Family of Plant City hit-and-run victim says unsafe road conditions are to blame for Miquel Hernandez’s death, calling the crash an avoidable tragedy.
- Miquel Hernandez's family blame unsafe road conditons for his death
- RELATED STORIES:
They say a lack of crosswalks, lighting, and high speeds were all contributing factors in his death.
Twenty-one-year-old Miquel Alexis Hernandez — or Michael, as his family called him, — died Sunday when he and two of his friends were leaving Fuego Bar and Grill.
As they were walking along S.R. 574, they were hit by a 2007 white Cadillac Escalade, which fled the scene.
Hernandez died at the scene. His friends were taken to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries.
His uncle Bernardino Vargas told Bay News 9 that the trio was walking on the roadway shoulder. They had parked at the bar’s overflow parking lot.
“There (were) no cones, there (were) no police officers there — it was dark. It was just an accident waiting to happen,” Vargas said.
On Friday, family, friends, and relatives celebrated the life of Hernandez during a candlelight vigil.
"He used to work with me. He was an electrician, and he was very good at what he did,” said Alexis Juarez.
Juarez was with Hernandez that night. He said it was Hernandez’s first time visiting the bar. They went to see a popular Nortena band.
Juarez said he, his brother, and Hernandez had left the bar and decided to return to get some food. They had just finished crossing the busy road when they were hit.
"We were off the road and it looked like he did it on purpose, because it swerved and it hit all three of us at the same time,” recalled Juarez.
Juarez’s brother Jason is still in the hospital recovering five days later.
"Today he got up and started walking. I was happy to see that. My family was too,” Alexis Juarez said, adding he was grateful he and his brother’s lives were spared.
A Need for Change
The overflow lot is across the street from the bar, meaning that many times, its patrons are forced to cross the busy road in the dark, which Hernandez and his friends were doing that night.
"They should have cops on the pay roll. They should have security out here standing, directing people where to park,” said Jose Hernandez, Miquel's brother.
“What’s surprising to me is that these things happened before. And nothing was done,” Bernardino Vargas said.
In fact, it happened twice in recent memory. Rosa Castro died in the same spot in 2015. Another pedestrian, Santos Noriega, also died in the area in 2014.
“I do want the community to understand … I don’t want anyone else to go through what I’m going through right now,” said Hernandez’s mother Raquel Vargas.
His family says his death will not be in vain.
“I do want the city, the police department, somebody to be held accountable for this … nothing’s going to bring my son back. But I do want to make awareness,” Raquel Vargas said.
A spokesperson with the Florida Dept. of Transportation told Spectrum Bay News 9 that TECO will issue a work order for the installation of street lighting in the area.
The agency also says its traffic operations office will review crash data to analyze speed in the area and see if any changes are needed.
The driver of the white Cadillac still has not been identified or arrested, but Plant City Police announced Thursday they found the white Escalade believed to be involved in the hit and run crash.
If you have any information, call the Tampa Bay Crime Stoppers at 1-800-873-TIPS (8477).
Meanwhile, Miquel’s uncle is raising money to help them fight for change in the area.
Funeral arrangements have not been announced yet.
Reporter Stephanie Claytor contributed to this story.