Victim continues recovery months after wrong-way crash on I-95

Bryan Criales, 22, suffered traumatic brain injury

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. – Local 10 News met Bryan Criales for the first time since he was involved in a deadly wrong-way crash on Interstate 95 seven months ago. His family has two priorities now, which are his recovery and justice.

He was able to sit up and make eye contact. It's a far cry from the state Criales was in in the days and months after the accident.

But he still has such a long way to go. He has to re-learn everything, from walking to eating to talking, because of the traumatic brain injury.

"Bryan had no fault in this at all, and yet he's suffering," said Amani Gil, Criales' fiancée.

The entire family is still suffering. His 23-year-old sister, Carmen Criales, died in the crash. Their mom was badly injured. They were taking Carmen to the Fort Lauderdale airport. She was flying to her dad in New Jersey to go to medical school orientation.

Noel Criales, Bryan's father, said he'll never stop fighting for justice in the form of punishment for Franklin Chavez, the person troopers said was driving south in the northbound lanes of I-95 when he plowed into the Criales vehicle head-on in December.

Chavez has not been charged or arrested.

"He's out there enjoying life, he gets to be with his family and everything, and we're the ones suffering," Gil said.

Bryan Criales spent three months in the hospital. He is now in his third rehab facility. He worked at Publix and was promoted just months before the crash. His Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance afforded him time at Memorial Hospital's intense therapy program. There, his family said, he improved so much.

"I can see him looking right at me and just talking to me through his eyes, or he'll hug me," Gil said. "He kisses me now. He does little things like that and it gives me hope. It really lifts up my spirit and, to be honest, he's my motivation."

Bryan Criales was forced out of Memorial's program, though, when he lost his insurance through Publix. His dad said it took weeks to find a place that would just accept Bryan, who was now uninsured. His father is now working two jobs to buy his own COBRA insurance, so his son just has a facility to be in. But the family is now looking for legal and health care guidance. They said Bryan is in desperate need of another intensive program or they're afraid he will not make further progress.

A dancing machine, the 22-year-old was certainly one with rhythm and moves and a love for music. He hasn't lost that passion, but now, bound to a wheelchair, a speaker on his lap and baby steps, like a fist pump and peace sign, just give his family hope.

"He's going to get better," Gil said. "I can see it. I can see in his face ... but we need that therapy."

Noel Criales said he has faith that one day his son is going to speak.

"He's going to hold me, he's going to call me dad and he's going to walk," he said.

The state attorney's office told Local 10 News the case against Chavez is still under review and a criminal case has not been filed. The Criales family is still searching for answers regarding the circumstances surrounding the accident. They want to know where Chavez got onto the highway going the wrong way and why. In March, Florida Highway Patrol troopers revealed Chavez had alcohol in his system but was not over the legal limit at the time of the crash. They said his blood-alcohol content was .046 g/100mL.

The Criales family and Bryan's loved ones have each other's love and support, but what they need and what they're looking for is the right rehab facility and the right programs for Bryan Criales to make sure his long-term care is as easy as possible.

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