Days shy of her 77th birthday, Hilda Garcia was a beloved figure in her Little Havana neighborhood. She’d lived there for more than three decades, walking to the grocery store, gifting mangoes to friends and chatting up even the roughest of strangers.
“The whole community loved her,” said her nephew, Tony Bolaños. “She was a talker. She could spend hours on a bench talking to you.”
Ricardo Alexander Gonzalez was a 25-year-old who sold bottles of cologne on the street and had seen Garcia around a neighborhood shopping plaza. He smoked marijuana twice daily for years and drove regularly while high, even though the drug caused his “lazy eye” to close while high, police said.
Their lives intersected in tragedy last year when Gonzalez, barreling through a Little Havana intersection, ran over Garcia but kept driving — later selling the car to a junkyard in hopes of covering up the crash.
But Gonzalez eventually turned himself in. And on Tuesday, he agreed to spend nine years in prison and complete nine years of probation. He pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide, tampering with evidence and leaving the scene of a fatal crash.
He pleaded guilty weeks after talking with Bolaños in a closed-door meeting, admitting to what he had done. Bolaños said he forgives Gonzalez.
“I believe in second chances. I believe this guy didn’t wake up with the intention of killing somebody,” Bolaños said. ”I believe we’re all worthy of second chances.”
The crash happened on the night of June 10, 2018, as Garcia crossed Northwest 37th Avenue at Ninth Street. Miami traffic-homicide detectives determined that the car was a Pontiac G6, likely more than a decade old.
Not long after the crash, a witness later told police that he saw two men using a baseball bat to shatter the windshield of a silver G6 car parked in Pembroke Pines. Detectives found the shattered windshield in a nearby trash bin, but the car had vanished.
Gonzalez, a few days later, called police to say he was at a Little Havana Caribbean restaurant and wanted to surrender. Officers found him sitting “with his head in his lap,” crying.
He told police he had been high when he was driving through Little Havana. He knew he “hit something” but drove off because he was “scared for his life.” The crash caused a four-inch hole in the windshield he later smashed up. He sold the car for $200 to a junkyard service. Detectives recovered it in a junkyard in Georgia.
At the time of the crash, Gonzalez had been ticketed four times for running red lights between 2016 and 2017. He also had three misdemeanor arrests for possession of marijuana, a habit he’d had since the age of 15.