Forklift operator arrested after fatal hit-and-run crash with car in Fort Lauderdale

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. (WSVN) - A forklift operator has been arrested after being accused of a fatal hit-and-run with a Mercedes in Fort Lauderdale.

The incident occurred on the 200 block of South Birch Road, at around 9:30 a.m., Sunday.

As reported by the Sun Sentinel, police said 30-year-old Ulises Alberto Mondragon Umanzor was driving eastbound on Poinsettia Drive and pulled out too far into the intersection of Seabreeze Boulevard.

According to police, Umanzor, who is from El Salvador, drove the forklift about a block away and walked away from it without calling 911.

A witness who spoke on condition of anonymity said he went looking for the forklift operator who, he said, continued east.

“At no point did he care one bit about the driver of the car at all,” he said. “He didn’t care. He was already leaving. Gone. He was definitely not interested at all in helping the driver and seeing what he had done.”

James Zakos, the driver of the Mercedes, was southbound on Seabreeze when he struck the forks of the lift as they jutted out in the intersection.

“We heard a really loud sound,” Chris, a witness following the Mercedes, said. “It clipped the top of the car. The top rail of the car that holds the windshield in had gotten completely torn. The car came to a really slow stop to the right — right in front of us. I ran out of my vehicle to make sure he was OK.”

The 70-year-old was transported to the hospital with a head injury and later pronounced dead.

“I prayed for their father there on the scene, and we’ve been praying for their family ever since,” Chris said.

Family members said Zakos — a father of two and former restaurant owner from Canada– was a snowbird who loved to be in South Florida driving his convertible and enjoying the weather.

“I heard it,” the witness said. “I was up on my balcony, stuck my head up. At that point, the Mercedes had come to a stop, and [I] walk out to the car, saw the man in the car — obviously, in very bad condition.”

Umanzor was arrested and charged with leaving the scene of a fatal accident, failure to stop at a stop sign and not having a driver’s license.

The witness added, “The man who was driving the forklift, I spoke to him in Spanish because he speaks no English, and I told him, ‘You have to go back to the police,’ and at that point, I motioned for him to come back, walked over near him. I was like, ‘Come on, let’s go.'”

Southeast Skanska USA, Inc., the construction company involved with the project where Umanzor was working, has released a statement on the hit-and-run.

“We are deeply saddened by the tragic incident, and our thoughts and prayers are with the family during this time. An investigation led by the Fort Lauderdale Police Department is underway, and we are fully cooperating with authorities. We’re also conducting an internal investigation because ensuring the safety of our workers and the public is our highest priority.”

He is being held in jail on an immigration hold because he is not a U.S. citizen, and according to police, he has no documentation permitting him to be in the country.

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