Deadly crash investigated - Fox29 WFLX TV, West Palm Beach, FL-news & weather

Deadly crash investigated

By Chuck Weber email

LAKE WORTH, FL (WFLX)-A local woman dies in a crash. Investigators believe alcohol was a factor. And the driver-- who deputies say hit the woman-- had been arrested just days earlier for driving on a suspended license.

Yet 23-year old Renee Rodriguez has yet to face charges related to the crash that killed 49-year old JoAnn Padilla in downtown Lake Worth on Wednesday. For Padilla's family, that's hard to swallow. But it's typical, say people familiar with cases involving traffic fatalities.

"Nobody, nobody, nobody should go through this," declared Padilla's sister, Elizabeth Medina, as tears flowed from her eyes. "Nobody. If you want to drink, stay home."

Sheriff's deputies say Rodriguez ran a red light at the intersection of Federal Highway and Lake Avenue, plowing into Padilla's Toyota Corolla. The Sheriff's Office says Rodriguez tried to drive off, but ran into the victim's car again, as well as signs and a pole. Then investigators say Rodriguez tried to run away, but witnesses caught him.

The previous Friday, Rodriguez was arrested for possession of marijuana and driving while his license was suspended. Rodriguez was out on bond Wednesday at the time of the Lake Worth crash. And he has a history of brushes with the law.

Padilla's sister held up a list of Rodriguez's previous arrests and asked, "Why? What's wrong with this system."

"I know it's hard for the family to understand, but there's just a lot of work that needs to be done on this case," explained veteran prosecutor Ellen Roberts, who heads the State Attorney's Office's vehicular homicide section. Roberts says it typically takes months to file charges in situations like these.

A crash reconstruction often takes more than two months to complete. Waiting for blood alcohol tests and the Medical Examiner's reports can also take one to two months. Then there are the witness interviews, which have to be transcribed.

Under state law defendants have the right to go to trial in six months, if they choose. So vehicle homicide investigators and prosecutors try to wait until their case is finished before arresting, to avoid the risk of having a case dismissed.

Roberts and the Sheriff's Office say the Lake Worth crash is being actively investigated.

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