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Miami crash kills Hispanic leader Maria Esther Carrillo from Tampa, injures her daughter

Maria Liliana Carrillo, a senior at Hillsborough High, was injured; her mother, Maria Esther Carrillo, died.

Courtesy of Al Frederick

Maria Liliana Carrillo, a senior at Hillsborough High, was injured; her mother, Maria Esther Carrillo, died.

For Maria Esther Carrillo, it was always about the community and the next generation of Hispanic Americans.

That's why when news spread Saturday that the Tampa mother died and her daughter was critically injured in a Miami car accident, community group leaders took to their e-mail lists to inform others of the passing of an activist and mentor.

"It was a complete shock," said Al Frederick, who worked with the 39-year-old cultural school founder in several groups. "This leaves a big gap (in the Hispanic community). She always tried to unite the different groups in hopes of helping Hispanics living in the United States."

Carrillo was in Miami Thursday with her daughter, 17-year-old Hillsborough High senior Maria Liliana Carrillo, who was being honored with a scholarship.

While they returning to their car, Miami police say, a car and a pickup truck collided in the intersection, causing the truck to spin onto the sidewalk where the Carrillos were standing.

Maria Esther died at the scene. Maria Liliana was taken to Jackson Memorial Hospital in critical condition.

"She had several broken ribs and broken bones in her face and one of her lungs collapsed," said Nicolas Prieto, president of Hispanic Youth Voice of Tampa, a group Maria Liliana founded. "But she is conscious now in stable condition and her brain wasn't harmed."

The two were due home at 3 a.m. Friday, but when husband and father Francisco Carrillo hadn't heard from them by 2 p.m., he called the Miami police and was told about two unidentified women involved in a crash.

"He was still holding out hope that it wouldn't be his wife and daughter," Frederick said.

But when he arrived in Miami late Friday, he found out it was.

Francisco Carrillo, an industrial engineer at McNichols Co. in Tampa, and his wife left Colombia for the United States in 1990 to escape the violence. They had two children in the United States.

Maria Esther noticed immediately that second-generation Hispanics, including her own son, at times had lost their connection to their heritage and culture, and in some cases were losing their language.

She dove headfirst into community activism, determined to make Hispanic children proud of their culture and heritage. She became a director of Tampa Hispanic Heritage Inc., served on the Mayor's Hispanic Advisory Council and founded TICH, a cultural school aimed at teaching Hispanic and non-Hispanic youth about cultural history and Spanish language.

With the school, she combated issues prevalent in the Hispanic community, such as high percentages of high school dropouts and teenage pregnancy, through the study of Spanish language, literature, folk dancing, music, food, legends and Spanish traditions.

"Her focus was always on education, and getting more Hispanics into college," Frederick said.

Her daughter similarly stands out as a high-achieving International Baccalaureate student, volleyball player and youth leader who dreams of becoming a chemical engineer.

Accepted into Columbia University, Maria Liliana has been raking in scholarships, including one from the Hillsborough High Alumni Association for Academic Excellence and $2,500 from the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers for academic merit, community service and leadership.

True to her ideals, Frederick said, he heard Maria Esther pushed her daughter out of the way of the truck spinning out of control, possibly taking on the full impact herself — and saving the next generation.

Robbyn Mitchell can be reached at (813) 226-3373 or

Miami crash kills Hispanic leader Maria Esther Carrillo from Tampa, injures her daughter 05/30/09 [Last modified: Sunday, May 31, 2009 12:39am]
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