The man behind the wheel of a fuel tanker truck that tipped over on a passenger car, killing its four occupants, has been indicted on four counts of vehicular homicide in Broward County, Fla.
Gloria Halpern, 56, of Potomac was one of the victims of the Feb. 11, 2005 crash. Halpern was a professor of accounting at Montgomery College and a long-time member of the youth hockey community in Potomac. She is the mother of Washington Capitals player Jeff Halpern.
THE DRIVER, Flavio Santisteban, 33, faces a maximum sentence of 60 years in prison if he is convicted on all four counts.
“Vehicular homicide is a second-degree felony. It is basically operating a motor vehicle in a reckless manner likely to cause death or great bodily harm,” said Florida Assistant State Attorney Stefanie Newman, who will prosecute the case.
She said that her office would rely on eyewitnesses and a more than one-year investigation by the Florida Highway Patrol in arguing its case. Santisteban was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the crash, she said.
The other victims of the crash were Gloria Halpern’s brother Alan Klein, 52, and his wife, Deborah Klein, 49, both of Cherry Hill, N.J. and Halpern’s aunt Anita Epstein, 83, of Coconut Creek, Fla.
More than 600 people attended Halpern’s funeral at B’nai Israel Congregation in Rockville in February, 2005.
SANTISTEBAN, carrying 9,000 gallons of fuel, was driving in the right lane of a two lane-ramp connecting I-595 to the northbound Florida Turnpike, about five miles from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
He was driving faster than the 35 mph speed limit and swerved trying to change lanes, causing the tanker truck to tip over on the Ford sedan in which Halpern was a passenger, according to police reports. The tanker pinned the crushed car to a guardrail and exploded, sending flames 40 feet in the air and liquefying aluminum parts of the passenger car, according to Florida Highway Patrol officers who were on the scene.
The Miami Herald reported that Santisteban had received at least 10 traffic citations since 2002.
Santisteban’s employer, Floval Oil Company of Miami issued a statement in which it said it was “disappointed” and “baffled” by the criminal charges.
There was nothing, the statement read, “that would make this tragedy anything but an accident a documented dangerous strip of highway.”
No criminal charges have been brought against Floval or its officers, Newman said.
BUT FLORIDA attorney Ervin Gonzalez is representing the Kleins’ two children in a civil case against both Santisteban and Floval. He called the Floval statement “ludicrous.”
“About four or five independent witnesses saw the same thing. … He took [the curve] too fast and in a reckless way,” Gonzalez said. “He acted in such a way that virtually guaranteed a tragedy. … He was just driving recklessly with a loaded bomb.”
Gonzalez said that he is legally prevented from revealing the amount damages his clients were seeking.
He expects the lawsuit to go to trial in July.
Newman said that the criminal case will likely take much longer. Santisteban has the right to a trial within 180 days, but his attorneys can seek continuances and have the right to take depositions from every state witness.
“These cases generally take years to prepare for trial,” Newman said.