1 dead, 1 in critical condition after car plunges into water in Miami Lakes

2 others escaped before help arrived, responders say

MIAMI LAKES, Fla. – A 19-year-old man is dead and a 15-year-old girl is in critical condition after a car carrying four people plunged into Lake Martha in Miami Lakes, Miami-Dade police confirmed.

The crash occurred at 1:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Authorities said the red Dodge Neon jumped the curb before plunging into the water.

"The noise -- it was unbelievable. And the house shook," Antonieta Kelly, who heard the crash, said. 

Kelly said the sound of the crash woke her up from her sleep.

She said several people who appeared to be teenagers emerged from the water dripping wet, and some of them were screaming for someone to call 911.

She said she talked to the driver after the crash.

"One of them told me that he lived in Hialeah," she said. "'It's my fault. It's my fault,' he kept saying. I told him, 'Look, you cannot live your life with that guilt. It wasn't your fault. It was an accident.'"

Police identified the driver as 18-year-old Jonathan Perez. 

Authorities said Perez and one passenger, Kevin Placeres, 18, were able to get out of the car unharmed. 

Helen Avendano, with Miami-Dade Fire Rescue, confirmed the other two occupants were still inside the car when rescue units arrived at the scene on Jacaranda Lane. Rescuers pulled them from the car and one of the victims, Christopher Leyva, was taken to Palmetto General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead by medical staff. 

Relatives identified the 15-year-old girl who was pulled from the car as Dezirea Joseph, a 10th-grader at Miami Springs Senior High School.

According to Joseph's aunt, Leyva had initially escaped from the car, but went back in to try to rescue the girl.

She said her family aches for Leyva's relatives. 

"I thank God that he was in the car with her and he tried -- but, still losing his life -- and I'd love for his parents to know that this family cares for them too," Sue Ann Parkhurst said.  

Friends said Leyva will always be remembered as a hero for his actions.

"Chris got out of the car and Dezirea was still in the car, and Chris went back down to get her and he drowned," Leyva's friend, Jorge Perez, said. "We're not sure if he was alive in the ambulance or not, but he was a hero, man."

Relatives told Local 10 News reporter Terrell Forney that the group of friends were heading to a party on the other side of the lake when the accident occurred.

Joseph's mother apparently called her daughter to check in on her, but she didn't answer. The mother then called one of the boys, who also didn't answer his phone.

Relatives said Joseph's mother then used her daughter's phone GPS to track her whereabouts and drove to the lake, where she saw police cars and firetrucks.

Relatives said Joseph was initially declared dead at the scene, but was revived. They said she was stabilized at Palmetto General Hospital before being transferred to Jackson Memorial Hospital, where she was listed in critical condition.

Her family, however, said Joseph showed small positive strides at the hospital, as she was alert and responding to commands to move her hands and feet, but is not yet talking. She does not appear to have brain damage, the family said.

"She recognized her mom. She held her mom's hand and gave her a squeeze, and shook (her head) yes and no, wiggled her feet. So we know there wasn't any spinal damage," Parkhurst said. 

Joseph's uncle estimates she may have been underwater for as long as 20 minutes. 

Her family has been told that the impact of the crash knocked her out cold, which led to her survival because it prevented her from panicking and breathing in excess air.

It remains unclear what caused the driver to crash into the lake. Authorities said the investigation remains open. 





About the Authors:

Terrell Forney joined Local 10 News in October 2005 as a general assignment reporter. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, but a desire to escape the harsh winters of the north brought him to South Florida.