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Child-seat law to get first test

Carmen Silva was holding her 3-year-daughter, Veronica, when the family's car collided with a van on a Hialeah street. The child was thrown from her mother's arms and slammed into the windshield. She died from massive head injuries. A child safety seat sat empty on the back seat of the car.

On Wednesday, Veronica's father, who was driving the car when the accident occurred Aug. 3, was charged with vehicular homicide under Florida's 1983 child-restraint law. Ramiro de Jesus Rodriguez, 30, was arrested at the Hialeah restaurant where he worked as a cook.

"I'm so upset. He's not guilty. Nobody wanted this to happen," said Silva. "We're just trying to go forward with our lives. This makes me more sad than ever."

Prosecutor Sally Weintraub said this may be the first time in Florida a driver has been charged with homicide under the law.

Passenger-car drivers are responsible for providing safety seats and making sure they are used by all passengers 3 or younger.

Weintraub acknowledged it may seem harsh to try to hold a parent criminally responsible for a child's accidental death. But she said that issue was debated at length by legislators who created the law.

Vehicular homicide, a third-degree felony, is defined as killing a person by reckless operation of a motor vehicle. Convicted first offenders face up to five years in prison and fines of up to $5,000.

Police said the accident that killed Veronica was her father's fault: He should have yielded to the van. Silva said the child was not in the safety seat because she had been ill and was being fussy.