A family of seven from Eagle Mountain, Utah were hit by James Howell’s vehicle on March 26 as they were walking back to their hotel after dinner. Raquel Leota, 24, lost her leg and her 10-year-old brother Tyson Wensel was severely injured. It is not clear whether Howell is facing charges or has hired an attorney.
According to Broward Sheriff’s Office, the incident took place in Dania Beach. The family had flown into Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport over the weekend for an annual family cruise scheduled on Monday morning.
The family checked into the Fairfield Inn Hotel and chose to walk to the nearby Rustic Inn Crabhouse for dinner on Sunday evening. As they were walking back to the hotel along SW 42nd Street a little before 8 p.m., a 2005 Chevrolet SSR reportedly switched lanes and veered into them, hitting the family and running through a fence before crashing into a concrete light pole.
Witnesses reportedly saw the driver trying to pass another car as he drove west on SW 42nd Street. When he crossed into the eastbound lanes, he reportedly lost control and crashed into the Utah family, who were walking on a wide stretch of grass.
Three members of the family—Raquel Leota, her husband Thomas Leota, and Tyson Wensel—were hit by the vehicle. They were taken to Broward Health Medical Center for treatment along with the driver of the Chevrolet SSR, who has been identified as 57-year-old James Howell of Pembroke Pines.
Raquel’s leg was damaged beyond repair and had to be severed. Her brother Wensel suffered a concussion, bruised lungs, a fractured foot, and lacerations on his right leg. Thomas Leota wasn’t seriously injured, and Howell only suffered minor injuries and was released on Sunday night.
Broward Sheriff’s Office Traffic Homicide unit believes that alcohol and speed may have been factors in the crash, which is still under investigation.
“This is tragic, a family down here for a good time, getting ready to go on a cruise, and their lives were changed in an instant,” said BSO spokesman Mike Jachles in a statement to the press.
The family set up a Gofundme page for Raquel Leota and Wensel’s medical expenses on Monday which says “a drunk driver lost control of his truck” and hit the family. Raquel Leota and Wensel are still in intensive care at Broward Health, according to the page.
The Florida legislature has passed some of the toughest DUI laws in the U.S. because of all the deaths, particularly of young people, that have been caused by drunk drivers. A driver convicted for driving under the influence may receive a combined sentence that includes community service, vehicle impoundment, driver’s license suspension, classes on the dangers of drunk driving, fines, payment of restitution where appropriate, and court costs.
Jail time depends on the type of DUI case. DUI causing serious bodily injury is classified as a third-degree felony and carries a penalty of up to five years in prison or five years of probation, and a $5,000 fine. A driver convicted of this charge may also have to pay restitution to compensate the victim for his or her losses.