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Troopers suspect 100 mph race led to crash that killed 2 women in Ruskin

Two cars were racing on East College Avenue before the June 22 crash, troopers say in a warrant affidavit. The victims were a passenger and driver crossing in front of them.
An initial news release said only that Elizabeth Rodriguez Ortiz, 19, of Ruskin, had driven into the path of oncoming traffic and was fatally injured. Now, state troopers say she was struck by two men racing.
An initial news release said only that Elizabeth Rodriguez Ortiz, 19, of Ruskin, had driven into the path of oncoming traffic and was fatally injured. Now, state troopers say she was struck by two men racing. [ Photo illustration by ASHLEY DYE and LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Jul. 26
Updated Jul. 26

RUSKIN — Two men racing at more than 100 mph contributed to a crash in Ruskin last month that claimed the lives of two young women, state troopers say.

The allegation is made in a search warrant affidavit seeking to examine potential evidence, including blood samples taken from the drivers — Juan Carlos Gonzalez Jr., 21, of Ruskin, and Anthony Gonzalez, 21, of Wimauma.

Killed in the crash June 22 on East College Avenue were Marisa Isidora Alvarado, 20, who was riding with Juan Gonzalez, and Elizabeth Rodriguez Ortiz, 19, of Ruskin, who was crossing College Avenue in her car when Juan Gonzalez crashed into her, the Highway Patrol said.

An initial news release from the Florida Highway Patrol said only that Ortiz had driven into the path of the other cars.

But the warrant, dated July 2, accuses the two men of reckless driving while racing. Neither man has been charged in the deaths and the investigation is continuing, Highway Patrol Sgt. Steve Gaskins said. Attempts to locate the two men for comment were unsuccessful.

A witness said that two cars, a 2000 Chevrolet Sonic driven by Juan Gonzalez and a 2020 Honda Accord driven by Anthony Gonzalez, appeared to be racing just before the crash, the warrant said.

They “were in competition, arising from a challenge to demonstrate superiority ... both drivers had accepted the challenge,” state Trooper Richard Von Preysing said in the warrant.

Both drivers told troopers they had smoked marijuana at some point before the crash, the warrant said.

Electronic data recovered from the Chevrolet showed that 5 seconds before the crash, Juan Gonzalez had been driving at 117 mph. At impact, his recorded speed was 102 mph.

The warrant gives this account of the crash:

Just after 11:30 p.m. on June 22, Juan Gonzalez was driving the Chevrolet west in the center lane on East College Avenue with Alvarado in the passenger seat. College Avenue is a six-lane divided highway at that point. Anthony Gonzalez in the Honda kept up with him in the outside lane.

Ortiz was headed north on 6th Street Southeast, crossing East College Avenue in her 2021 Dodge Charger.

The front of the Chevrolet crashed into the right side of the Charger, spinning the Charger and sending it airborne. The underside of the Charger collided with the hood of the Honda, evidence that the Chevrolet and Honda had been traveling side by side at similar speeds, the warrant said.

The Charger continued traveling through a chain-link fence, overturned, and rolled into a yard until it struck a tree. The car erupted in flames.

The Chevrolet kept moving until it crashed into a water meter box on the north shoulder of College Avenue. The driver and passenger airbags deployed.

Anthony Gonzalez was able to bring the Honda to a stop. He was not hurt and he remained at the scene of the crash.

Ortiz was pronounced dead at the scene. Alvarado, a Spoto High School graduate who worked as a server at a Ruskin restaurant, was airlifted to Tampa General Hospital and died there the next day. Juan Gonzalez was taken to Tampa General with serious injuries.

Anthony Gonzalez told troopers he had marijuana in his vehicle but they noticed no signs of impairment when they interviewed him 2½ hours after the crash, the warrant said. He provided a voluntary blood sample, the warrant said.

He told troopers that Ortiz had run the stop sign in her Charger before the crash.

Juan Gonzalez told troopers he had no recollection of what happened during the crash. He said he had not drunk alcohol but had smoked marijuana. A nurse confirmed that marijuana and no alcohol had been detected in his system.