SPRING HILL — Christmas Eve took from three families last year. A Jeep sport-utility vehicle struck a golf cart early that morning killing three of the four people riding in it, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
Finally, nearly a year later, the driver was arrested.
Victor Karl Valdez Jr., 33, was arrested Nov. 11, troopers said, ending a six-month search for the man they said repeatedly offered to turn himself in but never did.
"I think Christmas will be a little easier now that he’s no longer free," said Melanie Sweet, a sister of one of the crash victims.
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The crash took place at about 2 a.m. on Dec. 24, 2016 just south of the Pasco-Hernando line. The FHP said a 1999 Jeep Cherokee was speeding southbound on Monteverde Drive, its headlights off, troopers said.
It hit the back of a golf cart, ejecting all four people from the smaller vehicle.
Jennifer Boudreau, 36, Leah Marie Kurasz, 28, and Robert Frederikson, 48, died at the scene. The driver Scott Blair Wilson, then 23, was critically injured.
A man who ran outside his house after hearing the crash said the Jeep was on its side. The driver, Valdez, was not injured.
Jeff Boudreau, who lost his younger sister Jennifer in that crash, said it was as if Christmas had been forever tarnished for their family.
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The FHP said Valdez was driving with a suspended license. He was not arrested at the scene and the investigation continued.
In May, troopers obtained an arrest warrant, but did not explain what changed about the case.
Valdez, now with an address in Tampa, called several times that month offering to turn himself in, troopers said. He never did, and instead "lied to investigators" and entered "a state of hiding," said FHP Sgt. Steve Gaskins.
He also told his family he wouldn’t go back to prison, the FHP said. In 2010 he finished an 18-month sentence for burglary and grand theft, records show.
Finally, a tip led troopers to a home on Margie Avenue in Spring Hill on Nov. 11. They heard a "disturbance" in the back of the house and found two men sitting outside, one of whom said he was arguing with his wife. Valdez then walked out of the back of the house, trooper said, then ran back inside.
They said they found Valdez hiding inside, wielding a baseball bat behind a door. He surrendered, and now faces three counts of manslaughter and one count each of reckless driving causing serious bodily injury and resisting an officer without violence.
He was being held in the Pasco County jail in lieu of $176,500 bail.
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Valdez was arrested on Veterans Day, which holds special meaning for the Kurasz family. Several family members have served.
" ... It meant a lot that of all days, Veterans Day is the day he’s finally getting justice and justice is being served," said Sweet, an Army veteran and sister of Leah Marie Kurasz.
Her sister’s death has been especially hard on their parents, who lived with her sister in Spring Hill. Sweet said they’re relieved knowing Valdez has been charged: "To me and my family, that’s a God send."
Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or [email protected] Follow @ByJoshSolomon.