HALLANDALE BEACH — Authorities have identified four people killed when a man being pursued by police drove into opposing traffic on a South Florida highway.
The Florida Highway Patrol has identified the victims as Dennis Ryan Rinon Ortiz of California, Albertson Anthony Almase of Fort Lauderdale, his sister Kristina Almase of Fort Lauderdale and Lily Marie Azarcon of Manila, Philippines.
The four victims were in a minivan struck head-on early Wednesday on Interstate 95 by an SUV.
The Miami Herald reports that Azarcon was in the United States on business and was visiting Miami to see the Heat basketball team play. Rinion Ortiz was her colleague and was the international sales director for the Philippines-based Alveo Land Corp.
Albertson Almase was a petty officer second class in the Navy and stationed in San Diego. His sister was the mother of a 2-year-old girl and had recently moved to Florida from Cebu City in the Philippines.
The four victims died at the scene of blunt force trauma, said Larry Cameron, operations director for the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner's Office.
It wasn't known if they had been wearing seat belts, Cameron said, adding that "in high-velocity crashes, no matter what safety features there are, you won't be able to preserve life."
The Miami Herald reports that an Opa-locka police officer initially attempted to pull over the SUV for a traffic infraction. The SUV's driver suffered two broken legs in the crash. He faces four counts of vehicular homicide.
Opa-locka City Manager David Chiverton told the newspaper that the officer, Cpl. Sergio Perez, "cut off the pursuit and did not follow northbound the wrong way" when the SUV's driver drove into southbound traffic.
The Opa-locka Police Department prohibits officers from continuing a chase that goes against the flow of traffic. The department also only allows pursuits in the case of serious felonies such as murder, rape and robberies.
In a recording of a radio dispatch, Perez tells dispatchers that the SUV had driven into opposing traffic.
"This guy is all over the road," Perez says in the recording. "Now he's going against traffic on I-95. We're going northbound in the southbound lanes."
Moments later, he reports that he has the suspect in custody at gunpoint, and he asks for assistance to help the victims in the minivan.
Chiverton declined to comment on the dispatch recording. Perez has been placed on administrative leave.