Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Family suffers loss of woman killed Sunday in Hernando wreck

Cecilia Diaz, 75, of Spring Hill beams in a family photo with Bidiana Sims, her great-granddaughter. 

Courtesy of Jhamile Scott

Cecilia Diaz, 75, of Spring Hill beams in a family photo with Bidiana Sims, her great-granddaughter. 

SPRING HILL — Cecilia Diaz's family could count on two holiday traditions.

The native Puerto Rican would make arroz con gandules, rice and pigeon peas, prepared with homemade sofrito and pork shoulder. And when it was time to eat, Mrs. Diaz always said grace, giving thanks for food and her family.

Christmas Eve dinner was to be no different. Instead, the beloved matriarch's family is preparing for their first holiday without her.

The 75-year-old Spring Hill resident was driving home from the noon service at St. Frances Cabrini Church on Sunday when, authorities say, Gregory Gerard Sanchez ran a red light at Mariner and Landover boulevards. Sanchez's Ford pickup slammed into Diaz's Mitsubishi as she tried to turn south onto Mariner, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

Mrs. Diaz died at the scene. Sanchez, 26, suffered minor injuries. The crash remained under investigation on Monday. Investigators say they do not suspect alcohol was a factor.

Records show Sanchez, of Spring Hill, was arrested in May and charged with driving under the influence. The charge was dropped two months later.

Sanchez is also a defendant in a civil lawsuit alleging "auto negligence," according to Hernando County court records.

Details about the two cases, as well as Sanchez's driving record, were unavailable Monday because state and local offices were closed for the holiday. A woman who answered the phone at a number listed for Sanchez's address hung up on a Tampa Bay Times reporter who asked to speak to him about Sunday's crash.

Mrs. Diaz's family members converged at her apartment on Monday, struggling to follow the instructions she gave them to follow when her death came.

The deeply religious woman who attended church every week saw death as a glorious passing to eternity in heaven, said one of her four daughters, Maribel Vargas-Diaz of Atlanta.

"She would want us all to celebrate," said Vargas-Diaz. "She always said, 'I don't want anybody crying at my funeral. I want everybody laughing, I want everybody smiling.' "

The third of five children, Mrs. Diaz was born in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico and after high school moved to Connecticut. There, she reconnected with an old friend named Oscar Diaz, who told her years earlier that he'd marry her one day. In 1950, he did.

She worked as a teacher's aide. He was a school bus driver and later, a carpenter and construction foreman.

In 1980, the couple moved to Tampa, where Mrs. Diaz continued to work as a school aide. She loved being with the kids, her family said, but felt especially drawn to students learning English as a second language because she saw herself in them. About nine years ago, she retired from her post at Woodbridge Elementary in Tampa.

An active member of Tampa's Incarnation Catholic Church, Mrs. Diaz traveled the country as a missionary teaching Bible study classes. She led classes closer to home, too, for inmates at the Orient Road Jail.

The couple moved to Hernando County not long after she retired to be closer to one of their daughters. Mr. Diaz died in 2006 after battling cancer.

Earlier this year, Mrs. Diaz and her chihuahua mix Linda — Spanish for "pretty" — were among the first to move into Vista Grand, an apartment building for people 55 and older.

She was one of the building's most active and sociable residents, regularly inviting neighbors to share a meal with her.

Earlier this month, Mrs. Diaz danced at a masquerade ball wearing a mask she made in an arts and crafts class.

When a neighbor returned home from surgery recently, Mrs. Diaz was the first to volunteer to help.

"She was a very good woman, always smiling," said Rosalyn Negron, who lived next door.

Mrs. Diaz doted on her six great-grandchildren and had one on the way.

The holiday already brings memories of another family member. Mrs. Diaz's father Antonio Vargas died less than a week before Christmas in 2007.

The circumstances of Mrs. Diaz's death adds to the pain of her absence, said one of her dozen grandchildren, 28-year-old Angel Vera of New Port Richey.

"To find out it was caused by someone's negligence makes it harder," he said.

Mrs. Diaz planned to have Christmas Eve dinner at the Spring Hill home of her daughter, Ivonn Vera. Another daughter, Cecilia Diaz, was coming from Land O'Lakes.

Vargas-Diaz and Mrs. Diaz's other daughter, Arline Diaz of Bridgeport, Conn., weren't going to make the trip to Florida for the holiday this year. Neither was 23-year-old Jhamile Scott of Augusta, Ga., who drove down with other family members on Monday when she heard the news of her grandmother's death.

"Grandma got all the family together again, which she would have loved," Scott said.

Staff researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Reach Tony Marrero at tmarrero@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1431. On Twitter: @TMarreroTimes and @HernandoTimes.

Family suffers loss of woman killed Sunday in Hernando wreck 12/24/12 [Last modified: Monday, December 24, 2012 9:33pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Tampa man crashes into parked cars, gate at the Islamic Society of Tampa Mosque

    Crime

    A Tampa man intentionally drove his pick-up truck into two parked vehicles before smashing through the locked gate of the Islamic Society of Tampa Mosque, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

    Shaun H. Urwiler, 42, was arrested July 16 for intentionally driving his pick-up truck into two parked vehicles before smashing through the locked gate of the Islamic Society of Tampa Mosque, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. [Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]
  2. USF hoops to play at Indiana in November

    Blogs

    The USF men's basketball team is set to get an early test from a Big Ten powerhouse in non-conference play next season.

  3. Last steel beam marks construction milestone for Tom and Mary James' museum

    Growth

    ST. PETERSBURG — Tom and Mary James on Wednesday signed their names to the last steel beam framing the 105-ton stone mesa that will be built at the entrance of the museum that bears their name: the James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art.

    The topping-out ceremony of the James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art was held Wednesday morning in downtown St. Petersburg. Mary James (from left), husband Tom and Mayor Rick Kriseman signed the final beam before it was put into place. When finished, the $55 million museum at 100 Central Ave. will hold up to 500 pieces of the couple's 3,000-piece art collection. [Courtesy of James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art]
  4. Florida's school grades improve as educators get the hang of a new system

    Testing

    Following a trend, Florida's school grades showed strong gains in the third year after the state changed its grading formula and the standardized tests that students take every year.

    After finding out earlier Wednesday that her school went from a low C to an A,  Bear Creek Elementary principal Willette Houston celebrates with her students in the YMCA After School program at the school in St. Petersburg. Houston is giving a high five to rising fifth grader Jonaven Viera. Rising 4th grader Jonathan Cafaro is in foreground with his back to camera. [CHERIE DIEZ   |   Times]
  5. Tampa Bay woman, 11-year-old boy had sex up to 20 times the year their baby was born, detectives say.

    Crime

    TAMPA — A woman sexually battered an 11-year-old Brandon boy, got pregnant and raised the baby for three years before a tip led to her arrest, Hillsborough County sheriff's officials said.

    Marissa Mowry, now 25,  had sex as many as 20 times in 2014 with a boy who was 11 when he impregnated her, Hillsborough County detectives allege. [Photo courtesy of Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office]