GIBSONTON — Three fathers of young children died after the sport utility vehicle they were riding in overturned and ejected them onto U.S. 41 early Sunday, the Florida Highway Patrol said.
None of the men was wearing a seat belt, the patrol said.
The crash happened about 3:10 a.m. as the 2001 Ford Expedition they were in headed north on U.S. 41, near Valroy Road and south of Ruskin.
For some reason, the SUV went off into the grassy median and overturned.
All three men were ejected from the Ford onto the southbound lanes and shoulder of the highway, the patrol said, and died on the scene.
Troopers and family members identified the victims as Jesus Jaime, 29, Abdiel Cruz, 27, and Erick Venegas-Zuñiga, 29.
All three lived in a mobile home park in Gibsonton, family members said, and none had either a driver's license or U.S. citizenship. All three had been in the processes of applying through relatives who are citizens, family members said.
Manuel Jaime, Jesus Jaime's brother, said Jesus had come to his house Saturday night and asked Manuel's wife to borrow her car, but she said no because Jesus had no insurance.
Manuel Jaime, 34, said he thinks the three victims attended a party then went dancing, but doesn't suspect alcohol is to blame. He believes they were tired and the driver fell asleep.
"I still can't believe it," he said, speaking Spanish. "Three people dead from one accident."
Jaime described his brother as a hard worker and dedicated father to his 4-year-old son, Eduardo.
"He helped everybody that he could," Jaime said.
Jesus Jaime worked in construction, traveling often to anywhere work was available, even out of state, his brother said.
He most recently was commuting from Orlando to spend time with his son on the weekends. He most enjoyed taking Eduardo to the park during his free time.
"He would give him everything if he could," Manuel Jaime said.
Carlos Zuñiga said his brother, Erick Venegas-Zuñiga, leaves an infant daughter, Marlen Ariana, and a wife behind.
Carlos Zuñiga, 32, said his brother also worked in construction, and traveled to and from out-of-town sites to spend time with his family on the weekends.
Two of the victims, Jamie and Venegas-Zuñiga, grew up in Guanajuato, Mexico, and enjoyed fishing together.
Rusvel Cruz, a brother of victim Abdiel Cruz, said Abdiel lived with Erick as roommates in the mobile home park.
Rusvel Cruz, 34, said his brother worked as a carpenter in Gibsonton and that, like the others, leaves behind a child — a 2-year-old son, Abdiel Cruz Jr.
It was unclear which of the men was driving, the highway patrol said. Family members believe it was Venegas-Zuñiga because he was the only one with a vehicle.
The crash remained under investigation.
Times researcher Caryn Baird and staff writer Elizabeth Leva contributed to this report.