A man abducted his girlfriend's young son during an argument and then sped off in her car before losing control and crashing into a tree, killing both himself and the child in the fiery wreck, her family said.
Plantation police identified the dead in Thursday's early morning crash as Ryan Yates, 25, and 3-year-old James Oizan-Chapon, but have not released many details.
The boy's family, devastated by the tragedy, set up a GoFundMe account to raise money for funeral expenses. His aunt, Tiffany Velasquez, said James was a fun and fearless little boy whose life was cut too soon.
"James was a handful," she said. "He was fun, he was fearless. He jumped into everything. He made a huge mess of everything. He loved chicken nuggets."
Velasquez said the loss has been completely devastating for the family.
"Honestly it's been the worst day of my life," she said. "This is not something anybody prepares you for."
Velasquez said the boy's 25-year-old mom and Yates got into an argument just before the crash. Yates had grabbed James and drove away with him in the mom's black 2014 Mercedes-Benz as she tried unsuccessfully to free her son.
The Mercedes hit the tree at high speed, splitting in two and erupting in flames. The mom soon arrived at the scene.
"Right before the cops came through, I heard two booming sounds right after the crash and a woman screaming for her baby," said Frances Velaco, who lives in an apartment near the accident scene. "She was like 'my baby, my baby!' And I actually started crying when I heard that cause I felt really helpless and couldn’t do anything about it."
The South Florida SunSentinel reports that Yates had a lengthy arrest record. In 2014, he was charged with battery, but that case was dropped. In 2017, he was charged with grand theft auto. He pleaded no contest and was put on three years of probation.
He violated his probation the next year by traveling to Oklahoma, where he was charged with burglary and obstructing a police officer. Florida revoked his probation and he spent 18 months in prison.
In February, he was charged with battery, domestic battery by strangulation, grand theft auto and robbery. A trial was scheduled for next month.
James' family says they are grateful to the Plantation Police Department, who helped ease the pain.
"They were just there as human beings and every single person that I've encountered at that police department, the detectives, everybody has been so understanding and empathetic and compassionate to our family that I honestly can't thank them enough," Velasquez said.
"There isn't words you can put together for something like this," she said. "It's just so unfortunate and he did not deserve that. He deserved the opportunity to live a full beautiful life. It's just very hard. Very hard."