MIAMI LAKES, FLA. (WSVN) - Gripped by grief, family and friends came together in Miami Lakes to mourn a young man who was killed after a car plunged into a lake.
The incident also sent a 15-year-old girl to the hospital.
Loved ones prayed together and embraced Tuesday night, as they gathered at the scene of the crash to remember the man identified by friends as 19-year-old Christopher Leyva.
“Thank you, Jesus, because we know Chris is with you right now,” said a man as he led mourners in prayer.
The memorial had been scheduled to start at 8 p.m., but so many people showed up beforehand that it began earlier.
Leyva’s mother, Yamalia Jaime, found it difficult to find words to express her pain at losing her only son.
“My son was incredible, beautiful, an excellent person, excellent, excellent,” she said.
According to people close to those involved in the crash, Leyva initially made it out of the car but returned to save a friend.
“He’s an angel,” said relative Sue Ann Parkhurst. “He didn’t have to go back in there for her, and he did.”
Miami-Dade Police and Fire Rescue units responded to the scene along the 7200 block of Jacaranda Lane, near Miami Lakes Drive, early Tuesday morning, at around 1:30.
Police said Leyva did not survive a car ride with three other friends after the vehicle crashed into a lake, at around 1:30 a.m.
Area residents said the crash woke them up.
“The noise, it was unbelievable, and the house shook,” said Antonietta Kelly, who has lived in the neighborhood 40 years.
Kelly said she saw the car’s occupants emerge from the water.
“I see these kids coming out from the lake screaming, ‘Call 911,'” she said. “They were crying. They were very, very upset.”
The driver, identified as 18-year-old Jonathan Perez, and one of the passengers, 18-year-old Kevin Placeres, made it out of the red sedan uninjured.
However, crews had to extract Leyva and a 15-year-old girl from the submerged car.
“It took a long time to get him out,” said Kelly. “I guess they couldn’t get him out.”
Paramedics took the girl, identified as Desiree Joseph Gutierrez, to Ryder Trauma Center in critical condition where she remains in an medically induced coma, Wednesday.
Police said Leyva was pronounced dead by Palmetto General Hospital medical staff.
Kelly said it’s the first time anyone has died after crashing into the lake.
“It’s very upsetting. This is horrible,” she said.
A family member of Gutierrez said Leyva tried to rescue her, and her loved ones are grateful she’s alive.
“She’s on a respirator, I believe,” said Parkhurst. “She’s not communicating with anybody. It’s really sad to see.”
Jorge Perez, a friend of Leyva, said he was devastated upon hearing about his sudden passing.
“I’ve lost family, but a friend, that’s a whole different experience,” he said.
Perez said news of the fatal crash spread quickly on social media.
“I kept seeing it on Instagram and Snapchat, ‘Rest in peace, Chris,’ ‘long live Chris,’ ‘we love you, bro,'” he said. “That hits you. It’s a reality check.”
Perez said he had been with Leyva earlier on New Year’s Eve, and the two were planning to meet up again.
“Especially to lose someone on New Year’s, you’re celebrating, you’re having fun, you’re enjoying the moment, and then all of a sudden, everyone’s gone,” he said.
A friend of the victims said the visibility near the lake is poor, making it all too easy to make a dangerous mistake behind the wheel.
“It’s pretty easy for you to go straight into the lake, first of all, ’cause there’s no warning signs,” she said. “There’s no ‘caution’ [signs], there’s no lights, there’s no reflectants.”
Leyva was a student at Hialeah High School.
Miami-Dade Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho took to Twitter to express his condolences, calling the accident “tragic news for the families of these young people.”
The cause of the crash remains under investigation.
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