South Florida

Fatal Hit-and-Run Crashes Spiking in South Florida

May was an especially cruel month when it came to pedestrians and bicyclists getting killed by drivers who fled.

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If you think you’ve been seeing a surge in hit-and-run deaths lately in South Florida, you would be right, as May proved to be an especially deadly month in what is on pace to be a record-setting year.

On May 29, a hit-and-run driver killed 5-year-old Ramsey “RJ” Cole in Homestead, remembered by family as "a good kid. Everyone is going to miss him."

On May 14, it was a bicyclist run down on Sunset Drive.

The same day, less than 10 hours and three miles away, a killer in a car ran into 86-year-old Angel Martinez crossing 97th Avenue at Bird Road.

The morning after that, 16-year-old Diani Gomez-Sanchez was tossed, mortally wounded, off the 79th Street Causeway by a car that hit her as she was jogging, leaving her family and friends to mourn.

The hits-and-runs kept coming in South Florida in May, an extremely deadly month for bicyclists and pedestrians, beginning on May 2, when a silver Hyundai ran down 68-year-old Rupert Webley in Perrine.

"It has torn our lives apart," Webley's brother said.

One especially close and large family is turning their grief over the May 5 death of Brenda Martinez into action, an effort to spread the word in hopes of finding her killer.

Martinez, 42, a mother of four, was riding her bike with her 14-year-old son, TJ, around 11:30 on the night of May 5 when she fell on the street, Marina Mile Boulevard, just west of Interstate 95.

"When she fell down, he put his bicycle down to help her," recalled TJ's father, Thomas Bryan. "As he was going to help her, he saw out of the corner of his eye the truck coming over the bridge and before he could do anything, the truck was there, ran her over, dragged her 160 feet."

The Broward Sheriff's Office is looking for the driver of a blue Chevrolet Silverado pickup.

"Never stopped, never. Never hit the brake lights, nothing," said Bryan, describing the kind of person who flees a fatal crash as a "piece of s---."

Another of their sons, Amadeo Martinez, said he fears the sheer number of hit-and-run cases is overwhelming police.

"It happens so often. It’s just another case of a hit-and-run. You know, it's hard to find them because there’s no cameras. It’s just another person that got hit and killed," he said.

There are many -- and the number is growing in recent years.

In 2018, 47 people were killed in Miami-Dade, Broward and Monroe counties by hit-and-run drivers, according to state crash records.

At the rate being seen in those counties so far this year, the death toll would grow to 93 deaths for 2021, almost double the 2018 total.

Miami-Dade Police Sgt. Frank Armendariz, who's been investigating traffic homicides for a decade, said he's heard many excuses from drivers after they're caught, none of them good.

"There's a myriad of reasons, " he said. "You’re talking about the young driver who just panicked ... Then, you have people with a suspended license, no insurance, and then you got your egregious acts, people under the influence of drugs or alcohol."

Brenda Martinez’ family thinks they know why the driver fled the scene on the night of May 5.

"Alcohol," said Bryan. "Cinco de Mayo. That time of night. You don’t stop."

But police say, in most cases, if drivers would stop it would save them a trip to jail.

"The most important thing if you get into a crash, be clear minded, stay, don’t leave," Armendariz said. "Don’t leave because by leaving you just ruined your life. Not only that, you are showing you have no humanity."

If you have any information about the newer model blue Chevrolet Silverado 1500 that struck Brenda Martinez or any other vehicles wanted by police, you can contact Crime Stoppers at 954-493-TIPS. You can remain anonymous and collect a reward of up to $5,000.

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