TAMPA — The first time Angelique Cruz opened her eyes after the accident, her hands felt for the baby she had carried for 34 weeks.
She doesn't remember much from the accident, or the weeks she spent in the hospital.
But she does remember her boyfriend explaining that her baby didn't make it.
And she remembers cradling Angelys Brielle's lifeless body.
While the mother was unconscious, doctors performed an emergency Cesarean. Her daughter lived only three hours. Cruz woke up three days after the crash.
"I just remember when they gave her to me," Cruz said. "Nobody (in our family) actually got to see her alive."
It was a year ago Thursday when Cruz, 26, was riding with her sister when their car was broadsided by a truck that ran a red light, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
Cruz, still grappling with the loss of her daughter, is striving to change the law that allowed that driver to walk away with just a citation, not criminal charges.
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Cruz broke her pelvis and suffered internal bleeding. Her family focused on her injuries while planning the funeral for baby Angelys.
"I had to plan her funeral from the hospital," Cruz said.
The mother said goodbye to her daughter in a little pink casket. Cruz kept everything that touched her daughter: her first outfit, hospital armbands and a swaddling blanket.
One of her most prized possessions is the stuffed white bear that plays her daughter's heartbeat when you press its paw.
Cruz didn't find out until after she left the hospital that the driver who hit her, Felix Villavicencio wasn't arrested or charged. He was only cited for running the light and failure to secure the load he was carrying in his landscaping truck.
The crash took place at 6:05 p.m. According to the accident report, Villavicencio, then 48, was driving west on W Waters Avenue. Angelique Cruz was riding with her sister Irene Cruz. They were headed east, and had the green light to turn left onto Twelve Oaks Boulevard.
Villavicencio "failed to realize" the light was red, the FHP said, and was driving at 40 mph when he slammed into the side of the sisters' vehicle as they turned left.
Angelique Cruz said she was shocked that Villavicencio wasn't charged with vehicular homicide. In this case, investigators decided what happened was an accident, not a criminal act.
"Law enforcement determines if it's a criminal or civil infraction," said Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office spokesman Mark Cox. "Sometimes it's just an accident, even if, sadly, someone dies."
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Now Cruz wants to change the law, she wants to make a difference for Angelys. She says she wants the law changed to equate running a red light with reckless driving.
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She started a petition with Change.org, garnering almost 2,500 signatures in less than a year. She's reached out to local politicians and is calling on the state legislature to hear her story.
"I'm doing everything I think is right to keep her memory alive," Cruz said. "I'll keep fighting for her; I think any mother would."
If her petition receives enough signatures and attention, Cruz will plead her case in Tallahassee.
"So many little things came to light after the accident that hurt us more," said her boyfriend, Carlos Rodriguez, the father of Angelys. "She (Cruz) wants to feel like she's accomplishing something for her daughter."
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Rodriguez and Cruz have been together for 10 years now. They looked forward to everything that comes with having a baby girl. They had a nursery set up, and the mother already had picked out pink outfits for her daughter.
"I wanted to do everything with her," Cruz said.
Rodriguez said the tragedy has brought them closer together. There's no easy way to help a mother deal with the loss of a child, he said, but he does whatever he can to help.
And the father has his own sense of loss to deal with.
"I held her (Angelys) and I remember thinking, 'Wow her mom will hate me when she sees how much she looks like me,'" said Rodriguez, 30.
"Nothing will bring her back, but we're hoping for some sort of peace."
• • •
Cruz said she has moved on from the anger. Now she wants justice.
The mother is planning a memorial walk for her daughter on June 4 at Al Lopez Park. The walk symbolizes what would have been Angelys' first steps. Cruz wants it to be an outlet to break the silence of losing a child, and bring awareness to her cause.
The petition and the walk have kept her busy, and focused on building the life she wanted to have with her daughter.
The mother wants to stay connected with Angelys any way she can, and she doesn't any other parents to go through what she has endured.
"I'm trying to do everything I can for her," Cruz said. "I want to make a difference in her name."
Contact Chelsea Tatham at email@example.com. Follow @chelseatatham.