Thursday, February 22, 2018
Public safety

Family of 9-year-old boy hit and killed in Land O'Lakes launching its own investigation

HUDSON — The family of a 9-year-old boy hit and killed in Land O'Lakes last week won't wait on the Florida Highway Patrol to finish its investigation.

New information has led them to believe that John Ryals, 21, was grossly negligent when he struck Jorge Cruz, his mom and his brother while they were walking along a residential street Wednesday, the family's attorney said in a news conference Monday.

Ryals was cited with careless driving and released, though FHP Sgt. Steve Gaskins said a traffic homicide investigation is ongoing.

But attorney Gil Sanchez Valencia told reporters he's launching his own investigation. After recent discussions with FHP investigators, he said he can't rely on them.

"We're not going to leave anything to chance," he said.

Valencia wouldn't share details about the information that has prompted his inquiry. But he said he wants to look into the company Ryals works for — he was driving a Precision Appliance van — as well as the design of the street.

David Cruz, 7, who was hurt in the crash, appeared at the news conference with his father, Jorge. They addressed the media at Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point, where mom Anita Pallares is recovering.

Pallares was walking with her sons and their small dog on Bahia Loop about 7:45 a.m. when Ryals hit them. There are no sidewalks in the area, but an FHP report said they were walking on the correct side of the street, facing traffic.

The crash killed the dog and sent Pallares and her sons to the hospital, where Jorge died, the FHP said. Pallares underwent surgeries on her leg and arm.

When troopers arrived, Ryals told them he didn't see the family because they were under a tree's shadow, and he was focusing on an oncoming car.

Pallares' sister, Martha, spoke in Spanish at the news conference. Valencia translated for her, and said she thinks if Ryals had been Hispanic, troopers would have responded differently.

In an email, FHP Sgt. Steve Gaskins didn't respond about possible racial motivations, but he said Ryals wasn't arrested because nothing troopers learned at the scene warranted it. There were no signs of drunken driving, he said, and Ryals declined to give a blood sample.

"Without probable cause, FHP troopers cannot seize evidence arbitrarily to include blood samples, cellphone records and other evidence that someone may assume could be linked to a case," he said.

The family can't afford a funeral for Jorge, so their pastor, Fersan Canelas, spoke out to ask for the community's help.

By Monday, Canelas and others had raised more than $6,000. But if the family wants to send Jorge Cruz's body back to their native Mexico, he said they'll need more.

Other friends and relatives joined the family, too. Tiffany Sentner, Jorge Cruz's teacher at Pineview Elementary, said Jorge was a playful, well-behaved boy.

"There wasn't a student in my class who wasn't friends with him," she said, "or a student in the school he wasn't friends with."

Comments
Polk deputies seek Pinellas man accused of pushing woman from speeding car

Polk deputies seek Pinellas man accused of pushing woman from speeding car

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office has issued an arrest warrant for a Pinellas County man accused of beating and pushing a woman from a speeding car.On Feb. 17, Remond Brown II, 26, was traveling with the woman in a black Honda Accord near Highway 60 E...
Updated: 9 minutes ago
Man rescued after boat swept away, capsizes in Little Manatee River

Man rescued after boat swept away, capsizes in Little Manatee River

RUSKIN — A man was rescued early Thursday morning after Hillsborough County deputies say his boat was swept away by a strong tide and capsized in the Little Manatee River.According to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, a 911 call was received ...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Two male students arrested for threatening their schools; no weapons found

Two male students arrested for threatening their schools; no weapons found

Two male students were arrested Wednesday on charges that they made threats against their respective schools, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.The threats were not credible and neither took steps to carry out those threats, deput...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Former Florida Rep. Robert Wallace jumps from Tampa overpass

Former Florida Rep. Robert Wallace jumps from Tampa overpass

TAMPA — Former Florida state Rep. Robert Wallace ended his life Monday night by jumping from a Dale Mabry Highway overpass, records show. He was 65.At least one witness saw Wallace plunge 40 to 50 feet onto Gunn Highway, according to a Hillsborough C...
Updated: 11 hours ago

Two male students arrested for threatening their schools; no weapons found

Two male students were arrested Wednesday on charges that they made threats against their respective schools, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.The threats were not credible and neither took steps to carry out those threats, deput...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Man arrested after 3-year-old girl in his care found wandering streets

Man arrested after 3-year-old girl in his care found wandering streets

PORT RICHEY — A 59-year-old man was arrested Tuesday evening after a 3-year-old girl in his care was found wandering outside alone, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.Deputies said they were sent to Larry Dixon’s residence at 8710 Bench D...
Published: 02/21/18
Largo police investigating fatal hit-and-run crash on East Bay Drive

Largo police investigating fatal hit-and-run crash on East Bay Drive

LARGO — Police have identified the pedestrian in a fatal hit-and-run Wednesday morning.According to Largo police, 75-year-old John William English Jr. was struck and killed by a car about 6 a.m. at Wertz Drive. The crash shut down the eastbound lanes...
Published: 02/21/18
Parents of Seminole Heights killings suspect processed at jail for house arrest

Parents of Seminole Heights killings suspect processed at jail for house arrest

TAMPA — The parents of a man accused in last year’s Seminole Heights killings reported to a Hillsborough County jail Wednesday morning to be outfitted with the GPS monitors they’ll wear during their six months of house arrest.Rosita Donaldson was boo...
Published: 02/21/18
Police: Teen, 17, shoots Pinellas Park man who confronted him after car break-in

Police: Teen, 17, shoots Pinellas Park man who confronted him after car break-in

PINELLAS PARK — A Pinellas Park teen faces a charge of attempted murder after police say he stole a gun from an unlocked vehicle and shot the owner as he tried to give chase.Police say Brandon Paul Roman, 17, faces charges including attempted murder,...
Published: 02/21/18
Pedestrian killed by hit-and-run driver in Tampa

Pedestrian killed by hit-and-run driver in Tampa

TAMPA — A pedestrian was fatally struck by a hit-and-run vehicle early Wednesday morning.Police say the pedestrian died at the scene after being struck in the 6900 block of E Adamo Drive.Eastbound lanes are closed at S Maydell Drive, according to the...
Published: 02/21/18