It has been 11 months since investigators say Franklin Chavez drove the wrong way on I-95 and caused a high-speed, head-on collision that killed 23-year-old Carmen Criales and seriously injured her mother and brother.
Chavez has been charged with vehicular homicide and manslaughter while driving under the influence. Now the victims' father, Noel Criales, will come face-to-face with the man he holds responsible for his suffering Thursday morning in Miami-Dade court. Criales says members of his family will fill the courtroom. Among them will be his son Bryan, who survived the accident but suffers from a traumatic brain injury that leaves him unable to talk.
"For the first time, my family is going to meet the person who killed my daughter," Noel Criales says. "I'm very much in pain. We want justice."
On December 13, Franklin Chavez reportedly left a gathering with friends and drove south on the I-95 northbound lanes. He crashed into the Criales' car. They were driving from downtown Miami to Fort Lauderdale International Airport to drop off Carmen Criales, who was attending medical school orientation at Rowan University in New Jersey the next day.
Noel Criales says he was waiting for his daughter at the New Jersey airport and knew something was wrong when she didn't walk off the flight. He says he frantically called his daughter, son, and ex-wife, but no one answered. His worst fears were realized when his son's girlfriend called to tell him what had happened. Criales flew down to Miami to meet his ex-wife, Elisa Diaz, and son, who were rushed to the hospital in critical condition.
"The pain hurts so much, it's hard for anyone to understand," Criales says. "Carmen was the best student in her class, so hard-working and intelligent. It doesn't make sense that she's gone."
Criales says his ex-wife was badly injured and she still cannot walk or use her left arm. Bryan has had multiple brain surgeries. Part of his brain and skull had to be removed because of swelling. Criales says his son still has no recollection of the accident and doesn't understand that his sister has passed away. Despite her injuries, Elisa Diaz cares for Bryan at home in Miami since they can no longer afford inpatient care.
Meanwhile, Noel Criales frequently travels between Miami and New Jersey, where he resides. He works two jobs to pay for Bryan's hospital bills. But Bryan's insurance has expired, so it isn't enough. The family has created an online fundraiser to help.
"My goal is to be there in the court," Criales says, " to support my son and in memorial of my daughter."