Justice sometimes comes in fits and starts. It can be awkward and painful and frustratingly slow — especially for victims and their families. There is no cause for joy in the long-overdue decision by the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office to charge Davis Islands teen Jordan Valdez with fleeing a crash that claimed the life of a homeless woman more than five months ago. But there is the prospect that at last justice will be served and a small sense of closure partially realized for two families torn apart by this tragedy.
Valdez, 17, a cheerleader and student at Tampa's elite Academy of the Holy Names has been charged as an adult with one felony count of leaving the scene of an accident with death, which theoretically could lead to a 30-year prison term.
The victim's family has said police told them the Feb. 8 accident apparently occurred while Valdez was distracted by her CD player, causing the death of a 33-year-old homeless woman Melissa Sjostrom as she was crossing Hyde Park Avenue near the Davis Islands bridge.
Valdez allegedly did not stop, a fateful decision that will weigh on her conscience for the rest of her life.
Initially, a botched investigation by the Tampa Police Department led to the issuance of a feeble ticket for careless driving that was later dismissed by a judge for lack of evidence. The case was reopened, leading to the more serious charge against Valdez this week.
A plea deal is in the works between prosecutors and Valdez's attorney, and it will more than likely spare the young woman any time behind bars. And that, too, is only proper and — just.
It would serve no rational purpose to incarcerate a woman whose young life still holds the potential for a promising future. Rather this brief moment, which sadly bonded Valdez and Sjostrom together, should serve as an object lesson for teen drivers and their parents.
Mothers and fathers should take the opportunity to discuss with their children the responsibilities that come with the privilege of having a driver's license. Distractions, even momentary, can lead to catastrophic results. And a driver always has an obligation to take responsibility for those results. The law requires it. Young drivers need to understand that had Valdez simply stopped after allegedly striking Sjostrom in all probability she never would have been charged.
For parents everywhere the Jordan Valdez story is the ultimate parental nightmare. It is understandable the teen's parents wanted to protect their daughter, but in the end they did her no service by not fully — and immediately — cooperating with law enforcement officials investigating the accident.
All their well-intentioned but misguided efforts accomplished was to delay justice for Melissa Sjostrom — and Jordan Valdez.