Saturday, February 24, 2018
Public safety

Mother and sons struck by van in Land O'Lakes (with video)

LAND O'LAKES — A few more steps, and they would have been off the road.

Anita Pallares was walking to her sister's house with her 9- and 7-year-old sons in tow along Bahia Loop on Wednesday morning. It was a trip longtime friend and neighbor Maria Garcia said they made almost every day.

But as Pallares, 33, and her sons were steps away from her sister's driveway, a van hit all three of them as well as their small dog.

The area has no sidewalks, but authorities said the family had been walking on the correct side of the street, facing traffic.

Garcia ran outside when she heard screams.

The van was stopped outside her house. The driver, identified by the Florida Highway Patrol as 21-year-old John Ryals, was standing in the street, frozen.

Visibly injured and lying next to her sons, Pallares was screaming at him, "You hit us," Garcia said.

"He didn't say anything," she said. "He was in shock."

Pallares' older son, Jorge Cruz, wasn't moving, Garcia said. She checked his pulse and felt nothing. The younger boy, David Cruz, lay next to Jorge, crying that his stomach and neck hurt.

Jorge and Pallares were taken to Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point, where Jorge later died, FHP said. His mother suffered serious injuries and was listed in stable condition Wednesday afternoon.

David Cruz, who also suffered serious injuries, was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, where he was listed in stable condition Wednesday.

Jorge and David just finished third and first grade, respectively, at Pine View Elementary School in Land O'Lakes. Principal Kay Coe said the school community was "extremely saddened" by the loss of the older boy. "It's just a tragedy beyond words," she said.

Coe said Jorge and his younger brother were inseparable and had the same general demeanor: "always smiling, very quiet and shy, very well mannered."

"Jorge in particular was a friend to absolutely everybody," she said. "His teacher said he always did the right thing."

The Pasco County School District is making its crisis team available for family, friends or staff members who need support.

Ryals, who was not injured, was cited for careless driving.

State driving records show one infraction, a speeding ticket, on his record. His birthday was Wednesday.

Immediately after the crash, when Pallares' sister called 911 and tried to help, Ryals stood in the street. He did nothing, Garcia said; he said nothing.

While troopers were interviewing Ryals, Terry Jackson, who lives nearby, arrived home from work.

Pieces of a stroller the boys might have been riding in were everywhere, so Jackson put them in his Dumpster. The dog's body still lay on the pavement. His family buried it in his back yard.

After troopers left, Ryals stayed near the scene, watching the van from a pickup truck parked yards away.

He declined to comment.

Alcohol was not a factor in the crash, FHP said.

The report didn't say how fast Ryals was driving, but Jackson and Garcia both said they frequently see him driving fast down Bahia Loop. And it's not just Ryals.

Speeding on Bahia Loop has been a problem since it was recently paved. Garcia said she wants someone to do something about it.

"They need to put up speed bumps," she said.

Times staff writer Jeffrey S. Solochek contributed to this report.

     
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