Teens’ families sue Homestead police after chase leads to deadly canal crash

MIAMI – Family members of two of the three teenagers killed in a Feb. 2021 crash in Homestead announced legal action against the city’s police department Monday morning.

They held a news conference outside of the Miami-Dade courthouse at 10 a.m., announcing a wrongful death lawsuit.

Attorneys for the family say Homestead police “illegally” chased a car with four teenagers inside on Feb. 13, 2021, leading the vehicle to crash into a canal, killing Rihanna Vargas and Terence Valdivia, 14, and another teen passenger.

A 15-year-old boy was behind the wheel.

Family members claim the teens were being chased for a “simple, minor traffic infraction,” making a right turn on a red light without fully stopping, contrary to Homestead police policy.

“No parent should ever have to bury their kid it’s one of the worst feelings in the world,” Norma Vargas, Rihanna’s mother, said.

Family attorneys say a police officer “saw the vehicle as it sank into the canal and did nothing to intervene or render aid.”

“Three of the teenagers tragically lost their lives at the hands of Homestead police because the driver allegedly committed a minor traffic infraction,” attorneys said in a statement.

They described one of the pursuing officers as a “problem officer” and said the department hired him knowing that and failed to properly supervise him.

They said the officer was “not recommended for hire” before his employment with the Homestead Police Department and was never disciplined after the incident.

“It’s hard everyday when I gotta go to work and picture my only son my only boy has gone...for some negligence by some cops,” Alayn Hernandez, Terence Valdivia’s father said.

Homestead police responded to the lawsuit in a statement to Local 10 News.

“Our Hearts and condolences go out to the family and friends of the deceased,” Capt. Fernando Morales, a Homestead police spokesperson said. “As (is) customary with open litigation, The Homestead Police Department will not be making any comments until its completion.”

About the Authors:

Joseph Ojo joined Local 10 in April 2021. Born and raised in New York City, he previously worked in Buffalo, North Dakota, Fort Myers and Baltimore.

Chris Gothner joined the Local 10 News team in 2022 as a Digital Journalist.