Driver who killed 5 on Miami freeway was drunk nearly twice legal limit, state says

The driver who killed five young people in a wrong-way crash on the Palmetto Expressway was driving 80 miles per hour and was nearly twice the alcohol limit shortly after the wreck, authorities revealed in court Tuesday.

Prosecutors now plan to refile DUI manslaughter charges against Maiky Simeon, who appeared in a wheelchair in court Tuesday and was ordered held without bail. A crowd of family and supporters of the victims erupted in cheers and applause when Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Diana Vizcaino announced her decision to keep him in jail pending trial.

Vizcaino said Simeon had shown “indifference to the safety of the community.”

Simeon had been in custody since early Aug. 20, when his silver 2018 Infiniti Q50 went up the Palmetto ramp, swerved through oncoming cars, changed lanes and then plowed directly into a westbound Honda. Five young people in the middle, aged 18 to 25, all died. Simeon had to be extricated from his car and was airlifted to the Ryder Trauma Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital.

Those killed in the violent wreck: Giancarlo Arias, Daniella Marcano, Valeria Peña, Briana Pacalagua and Valeria Cáceres.

From top left, Giancarlo Arias, Daniella Marcano, Valeria Peña and from bottom left, Briana Pacalagua and Valeria Cáceres were the five young adults killed Saturday, Aug. 20, 2022, in a car crash on the Palmetto Expressway.

Simeon was initially posted on $50,000 bail and ordered to house arrest by a pretrial judge on five counts of involuntary manslaughter. But prosecutors had asked that Simeon be kept behind bars now that toxicology reports had concluded he was indeed drunk and the charges would be upgraded.

“He has every reason to try to get away,” Assistant State’s Attorney Shawn Abuhoff told the judge.

During Tuesday’s hearing, a Florida Highway Patrol corporal testified that a blood sample taken at the hospital within an hour of the crash showed a blood alcohol content level of 0.152. The legal limit in Florida is 0.08.

An analysis of the car’s computer also showed it was going 80 mph shortly before the crash, FHP’s Ruben Gutierrez Del Toro testified. He told the judge that video surveillance showed he passed several cars going in the opposite direction — on the ramp and onto the expressway — before hitting the Honda.

Simeon’s defense attorney, Albert Levin, told the judge that his client had no arrest history and was not a flight risk. He came to the United States from Haiti in 2010 after the country’s devastating earthquake and had strong family ties in Miami, Levin said.

“He is not allowed to drive. He doesn’t want to drive,” Levin said. “Although his behavior was apparently reckless, we ask that he be given the opportunity to remain in his residence during the pendency of these proceedings, which could be lengthy.”

After the hearing, family members hugged and cried in the hallway.

“It would have been hard to know that he was free,” said Alvaro Peña, Valeria Peña’s father. “We just want justice.”

Robert Boyers, attorney for the Pacalagua family said: “Today’s decision was a good one. We all want to see the accused held accountable.”

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