Many questions remain in case of Dade County Riderz motorcyclist's death

Investigators struggle with survivor's statement, GoPro videos

By Andrea Torres - Digital Reporter/Producer

Yailen Gonzalez, who moved away from Miami-Dade County to start a new life with her son, said she believes a Miami police officer caused the crash that killed her husband, Yoinis Cruz-Peña, last year near Brickell Avenue in Miami.

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. - Yailen Gonzalez was with her husband, Yoinis Cruz-Peña, in Virginia Key. He was driving a black 2008 Kawasaki motorcycle on the Rickenbacker Causeway. They had a view of the Miami's Brickell skyline and the blue waters of Biscayne Bay. 

They were riding with members of the Dade County Riderz, a community of bikers that believes there is safety in numbers and has a presence on Instagram. They had just had a relaxing Sunday afternoon, May 27, 2018, at Whiskey Joe's Bar & Grill.  

Gonzalez said she warned the riders that Miami police officers were waiting for them outside. After passing by the Rickenbacker Causeway Toll Gantry, Cruz-Peña was riding on an overpass that divides into ramps to Interstate 95 northbound and U.S. 1.  

It was the last time she was able to hold on to her husband, a tattoo artist who was born in Havana and lived in Hialeah.

"We were going there and [the officers] would edge us," Gonzalez said, according to police. "They got close and that is when my husband got close to the curve, and I do not know what happened at the curve that we flew out and the motorcycle stayed."

 

Cruz-Peña was ejected over the outside retaining wall. He ended up dead below the overpass, along Southeast 26th Road at South Miami Avenue. Gonzalez, who is a mother, survived to tell the story from her bed in the intensive care unit at Jackson Memorial Hospital's Ryder Trauma Center.

She suffered a left pelvic fracture, a fracture to the left femur and multiple abrasions on her knees and elbows. She described the crash to police officers. The police cars chasing them before the crash, she said, "were the same police that went to see us down there where we landed."

Dade County Riderz members who knew Cruz-Peña will never forget. Some have even gotten tattoos of his name -- "Yoinis C.P." -- with a helmet, the date of his death and the words "Rest in Paradise."

Gonzalez's recorded statement has been a part of three investigations and is now part of a fourth ongoing investigation into the case. Records show Miami Sgt. Eddie Avila and Miami-Dade Sgt. John Perez interviewed Gonzalez a third time before she left town to start a new life with her son. 

The Miami Police Department Professional Compliance Bureau is conducting an investigation after probes by the Miami Police Department's Internal Affairs Unit, the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office and the Miami Civilian Investigative Panel

Miami police officers responded to a fatal motorcycle crash in Miami May 27, 2018.

The detectives and the prosecutors reported speed was to blame for Cruz-Peña losing control of the motorcycle. Assistant State Attorney David Gilbert recommended no felony charges.

On social media, users claiming to be Dade County Riderz motorcyclists disagreed with the decision and said they shared video to show Gonzalez was telling the truth. The Miami New Times published the video on June 4, 2018 reporting witnesses said an officer was chasing Cruz-Peña at more than 100 mph on the Rickenbacker Causeway. 

CIP investigators said they were "unable to authenticate the video" and last month an investigator recommended the case be closed as "not sustained." CIP Director Cristina Beamud wanted the board to determine that the actions of an officer contributed to Cruz-Peña's death.

CIP investigators did raise some discrepancies in the case.

"Cruz-Peña was known to wear a Go Pro camera on his helmet," a CIP investigator wrote. 

The CIP investigators noted that on the Miami police receipts of the property impounded at the scene of the fatal crash, Cruz-Peña's helmet had a GoPro mount, but "there was no mention of a GoPro camera."

CIP investigators noticed the traffic homicide supplementary report did mention the GoPro camera. They also noticed inaccuracies in the officers' translation of Gonzalez's statement in Spanish.   

Dade County Riderz members, who don't want to be identified, shared pictures saying Yoinis Cruz-Peña usually wore a GoPro camera to film his rides and he wore it on the day he died. They also shared a video they say shows a Miami police…

"We have a lot of weird, conflicting information in all this," Elizabeth Albert, a CIP investigator, told The Miami Herald

The CIP board met at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, July 16, at Miami City Hall in Coconut Grove. The Miami New Times covered the meeting. Doug Mayer, a CIP board member, said the investigation was incomplete and he suspected it was "to hide ... that what happened that day was improper." The panel passed a resolution accusing police of using "improper procedure."

The Miami Herald reported Monday afternoon that Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina ordered the Professional Compliance Bureau to reopen the case and gather new evidence and witness testimony. 

 

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Yoinis Cruz last farewell

'Ride in Paradise'

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