Arturo Javier Montenegro was heading to Miami for a Secret Santa Christmas gift exchange with the love of his life - his 6-year-old daughter Norvel Jannett.
The 47-year-old single, divorced father often took Norvel almost everywhere with him – especially to the weekly meeting of a local group that works with Honduran immigrants. Everyone knew and loved Norvel, who would sit off to the side and draw while the grownups did grownup stuff.
They were running a little late to the 8 p.m. meeting Wednesday as they cruised south on U. S. 27 in his Honda Civic.
Around 8:30 p.m., around mile marker 16.5, on a remote stretch of the Northwest Miami-Dade roadway, Montenegro and his daughter died in a horrific, fiery crash that left even veteran traffic homicide investigators shaken.
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A BMW, speeding north, suddenly spun out of control and, rotating counter-clockwise, crossed the grassy median and crashed into Montenegro’s Civic. The BMW hit the car with such force that it flipped over the Civic, landing on its roof and bursting into flames.
The BMW was burned beyond recognition and the two people inside – later identified as Miguel Remedio Gonzalez, 29 and Lazaro Miguel Remedio Palacio, 56, both of Sunny Isles Beach – had to be identified by dental records.
“It’s bad. It is bad,” said Joe Sanchez, spokesman for the Florida Highway Patrol. “I”ve been doing this for 25 years. And this is up there.”
Both cars had to be towed – the BMW with the remains inside – to the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner’s office.
The area, a well-lit, but isolated stretch of highway, has a history of racing, Sanchez said, although no witnesses had come forward as of Thursday to talk about the crash.
On Thursday, while FHP traffic homicide investigators were tying to piece together what happened from the charred wreckage, grieving friends and family came together to console each other over losing their loved ones.
“We’re in shock,” said Francisco Portillo, president of the Francisco Morazan Honduran Integrated Organization, the nonprofit where Montenegro worked in addition to running a printing and design company. “We’re dismayed because they’re irreplaceable.”
Minutes before the accident, Montenegro told Portillo on the phone he was 15 minutes away from the meeting. A Honduran immigrant from Tegucigalpa, he said he and his daughter would make it in time to participate in the name drawing.
On Thursday, Portillo remembered Montenegro as a man who pushed for immigrant rights and worked hard to provide for his daughter, of whom he had custody.
“He would tell me, ‘Francisco, I want to give my daughter a good future,” Portillo said. “I want her to be something in this country. I work hard so my daughter can become something in this country.’”
One of Norvel’s uncles, Drew Santora, told Miami Herald news partner CBS4 that the accident took the life of “an angel.”
“It’s horrible. It’s tragic,” he said. “It couldn’t happen to two nicer people. It’s just devastating.”
Johony Ovalles, a family friend, said the viewing will be Friday at Funeraria Latina Emanuel, at 14990 W. Dixie Highway, North Miami, at a time yet to be determined. The funeral likely to be Sunday. Montenegro’s family is trying to obtain a humanitarian visa to bring over his older teenaged daughter from Honduras.
Ovalles said Montenegro loved his daughter dearly.
“They were inseparable. “Like that, they left together.”
According to police, Gonzalez and Palacio were about a mile north of Florida’s Turnpike, when Gonzalez lost control of the BMW.
Sanchez said evidence on the scene indicated that the car was “traveling at a high rate of speed” when it travelled across the wide, grassy median and struck Montenegro’s oncoming car.
On Thursday morning, a yellow tarp, charred grass and broken car pieces marked the scene of the tragedy. Pieces of a muffler, a door handle and a battery littered the ground where the vehicles landed. Skid marks remained on the southbound lanes, and a burning smell lingered in the air.
In a strange coincidence, the drivers lived about two miles apart from each other — the Montenegros in North Miami Beach and Gonzalez in Sunny Isles Beach.
Thursday evening, Miguel Gonzalez’s girlfriend told a reporter she was too distraught to talk about the accident.
The violent crash left a strong impression on authorities who responded Wednesday night.
“This is a tragedy all around,” Sanchez said.