Five years ago, a small teenage girl with striking brown eyes stood crying in bondage in Tampa’s courtroom.
Jennifer Carvajal admitted that he was drunk early one morning, shy for a few weeks on his 17th birthday. She admitted that she had blown off the red light and hit another car, killing the driver. She admitted that she made a terrible mistake and vowed to be a better person.
“One person paid the ultimate price for my selfish behavior,” she said.
She was put in jail for five years.
Last summer, Carvajal reappeared in court and was accused of leaving the substance abuse treatment facility and violating probation.
“She is dancing around a big fire,” Judge Nick Nazarethian warned her lawyer. “And if she gets too close to it, she will get burned.”
She was advised to do better and returned to treatment.
Two weeks ago, officials say Carvajal was drunk driving again. Once again, they say, she crashed and killed the man.
What happened here? The complete story has not yet been told. But court and police records gave a glimpse of a tragic life full of wrong directions, which also ended two other lives and afflicted more.
Child with problems
Jennifer Carvajal was born in Tampa in 1997 as the second oldest child in a family of two girls and three boys.
She later remembered her childhood memories of hearing her parents fight, hiding in the closet with her siblings, and running down the street to call the police.
According to court testimony, her father sold and used drugs. He drank. Her mother once left the children for a week and looked aloof.
According to court testimony, when she was about six years old, some older men in her extended family began to sexually abuse her. It was not discovered until the age of nine, when he developed an infection that his doctor diagnosed as a sexually transmitted disease.
At the age of 11, her father was arrested for raping an older female relative. He was deported to Mexico after spending five years in prison.
At the age of 12, she tried marijuana. At the age of 15, she regularly smoked and drank. She was hospitalized twice after trying to take her life.
Her attendance at school was sporadic. She had poor grades and was suspended for sneaking in to meet the boy from the Simmons Career Center in Plant City.
She later remembered that her boyfriend gave her access to alcohol. She will remember drinking to escape and forget.
She remembered one early morning when she was out all night without asking her mother’s car. She went home, but left again when her cousin called and asked for a ride to school.
Keith Allen Davis was 52 years old. Originally from Pennsylvania, he emigrated to Florida as an adult. His parents and two brothers died when he was young. He has been alone since he was 16 years old. His most beloved was his longtime girlfriend Susan Brain.
They shared a small house in a neat plant city parcel. They had three dogs. He was involved in the delivery of Tampa Tribune and other newspapers in eastern Hillsborough County.
That’s what he was doing on February 5, 2014. It was chilly at 6:30 am in a light fog when he was working his route with the black Toyota Echo. It was almost dark when he got off the exit ramp from Interstate 4 to the east towards North Alexander Street. He passed through the green traffic lights and headed east towards the side road.
At that moment, Gold Lincoln Navigator traveled north on Alexander Street at 55 mph. The headlights were off. It passed through the red light and plowed into Davis’s car.
Toyota was pushed back and crushed into a concrete partition.
Lincoln continued on, turning the road, signing a pedestrian crossing, crushing the water mains on the ground, and then stopping at a palm tree.
“Sorry, it was my fault,” Carvajal said when the bystanders approached. “I just got the permission of my learner. There is no insurance.”
Davis lay unconsciously, bleeding, and his bones were crushed. He was rushed to the Lakeland Community Medical Center and died at 8:09 am.
On Lincoln’s floor, police found an empty can of Foroko, a fruit-flavored malt drink known for its high alcohol content. They also found an empty beer can and an empty bottle of patron tequila.
Lab tests measure Carvajal’s blood alcohol levels at .13 hours after the crash. The legal limit is .08.
Carvajal did not challenge the manslaughter of drunk driving in an adult court. She was 18 when she faced the sentence. She clasped the tissue while standing with chestnut hair dyed blonde on both ends, brushing the top of her orange shirt.
Her voice quivered. She asked for forgiveness. She said she got lost and felt broken. Instead of asking for help, she said she tried to forget the pain by drinking.
“Now I have no choice but to face reality,” she said. “In reality, my actions have hurt many people …. If there is a way, I will not hesitate to ask God to take me instead.”
She said she wanted to pay for what she did, but she also wanted help.
Judge Thomas Barber heard from forensic psychologist Valerie McLean testified that Carvajal showed signs of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. She recommended that every sentence include a requirement to participate in substance abuse and mental health treatment for at least one year. She commented that long imprisonment only contributed to the damage.
The judge also heard from people who knew Davis.
“I’m sorry that Miss Carvajal had such a difficult life, but that’s no excuse,” said Toby Stognner, a longtime friend of the victim. “When you decide to drive without a driver’s license, that is, when you decide to drive under the influence of alcohol, it’s an adult decision.”
The victim’s girlfriend, Brain, said she couldn’t pay their bills after he died. She lost her companion and home. (She wasn’t asked to comment on this story.)
According to state ruling guidelines, Carvajal was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Blaine told the judge that the minimum ruling she could accept was four years. This is the mandatory minimum period for manslaughter due to drunk driving.
Carvajal’s defense lawyer, Dee Ann Athan, emphasized her youth and abusive childhood. She asked juvenile sanctions or judges to treat Carvajal as a “youthful criminal.” This is a designation that may allow for non-punitive judgments.
The judge noted that Carvajal accepted responsibility and expressed remorse. He also mentioned the seriousness of her crimes.
“The conclusion for me is … no one can kill or be punished, regardless of the living conditions of the person,” Barber said.
He gave Carvajal for five years. He also had to give her five years of probation and enroll in a home care program.
She was ordered to pay Blain $ 8,068 for funeral expenses and was permanently banned from holding her driver’s license.
New life, more trouble
According to correction records, Carvajal has accumulated a small number of disciplinary actions in prison for refusal of work, fighting, contempt for civil servants, and “sexual activity.”
She was released in October 2019. According to records, she got a job at a cleaning company. She later went to work at Dunkin’Donuts, the lawyer said.
Records show that her return remained unpaid.
She enrolled in Tampa’s Residential Substance Abuse Treatment Program, DACCO. On May 5, last year, she was warned that she “looks like she has a relationship with her peers,” according to reports of probation breaches. When spoken to, she closed the door, then packed her bag and left.
On May 21, she returned to prison.
In July, Carvajal appeared in court of Judge Nazarethian.
She was told she could have more time. She was also told that DACCO was willing to get her back.
She said she didn’t want more prison time.
“She killed someone because she drank alcohol,” the judge said. “It’s very serious. And if it were me, it would bother me forever. And she needs to be grateful and make sure she does what she has to do. Another hammer is five years. Because it takes more, it could fall in the future. “He asked if she understood.
“Yes, sir,” said Kavahar in a quiet voice.
A public defender said Carvajal had completed a three-month treatment program while in prison. She wanted to get credit for it, but she was rejected. She also asked if she could go to another program. The judge refused.
“I’m not very good at today’s lectures, but it’s very serious. What happened can’t be aggravated,” said Nazarethian. “You have already been sentenced to life imprisonment for five years. You don’t want to spend another day there.”
He gave her a new five-year probation period. As before, it prohibits her from using alcohol and drugs. As before, it forbids her to drive. As before, she had to complete substance abuse treatment.
The judge also imposed a curfew, and Carvajal had to stay home from 10 pm to 6 am.
According to records, she completed treatment on March 10.
Six weeks later, on April 25, Sergeant Florida Highway Patrol. Jason Moore was cruising the eastward lane of Interstate 4. After 1:30 am, he noticed that the pair of opposing headlights were moving west much faster than the other headlights. Moore’s radar showed speeds in excess of 110 mph.
The sergeant made a U-turn, competing to catch up with the speed-violating car, the siren sounded, and the blue light flashed.
A minute later, near the exit of Mango Road, he pulled up behind the Hyundai Elantra. In modern times, I suddenly turned right, bent my shoulders, went down the grass slope, and climbed the embankment.
Four wheels have left the ground. The car clipped the wire mesh when sailing to the Gatorford Dealer Lot. It hit a parked truck, then turned over and crashed into a concrete streetlight post and palm trees. When it stopped, Hyundai lay on its roof, and its back edge was a crumpled metal grunt.
The two were thrown into the pavement. When Moore arrived at the wreckage, he discovered that one of them, Lexia Gonzalez, 20 years old, was crawling away. Her legs broke.
When asked who was driving, she pointed to the wire mesh fence. Jennifer Carvajal stood.
Carvajal denied she was a driver.
Moore noticed a bruise on his left shoulder and said he stretched across his chest toward his right hip. The seat belt in the driver’s seat of the car was stretched, loose and hanging.
She and Gonzales were taken to Tampa General Hospital with the other two. 19-year-old Grady Ramirez, who was in the passenger seat, endured an injury described in the report as helpless.
Another sent-off passenger, Pedro Carvajal, 22, died later.
He was Jennifer Carvajal’s cousin. According to an online obituary, he had three brothers and three sisters. Lexcia Gonzalez was his girlfriend. They had a son named Julian.
At the hospital, Trooper Joshua Lugo met Carvajal. He said her speech was obscure, her eyes were glassy, she had a hard time keeping awake, and she smelled alcohol. In medical tests, Carvajal’s blood alcohol level was fixed at .10. This is slightly above the statutory limit. As a result of the second test, the legal blood draw taken as a result of the search warrant remains pending.
Carvajal’s aunt Cindy Rosales, who was contacted by phone last week, said her family didn’t want to comment.
“They are all in mourning,” said Carvajal’s private counsel, Barry Taracks. “Obviously, this claim is very serious for my client. She has deep sympathy not only for the injured, but also for the deceased.”
Hyundai is registered with Gonzales. According to Tarax, the group was attending a family birthday party that night. Gonzales drove them there, he said. According to her lawyer, it’s unclear if she drove after the group left the party.
Carvajal faces a series of new criminal charges, including manslaughter of drunk driving.
If convicted of being charged, Carvajal could face a total of 40 years in prison.
State probation officer Trevor Bethea prepared a report of probation breach and called on judges to impose the greatest fines.
“This is the second person to die in the hands of this criminal, and her actions continue to show disregard for the general public, who should warn all parties.” He wrote.
Carvajal will return to court on Monday.
— Times staff writer Tony Marello contributed to this report.
At the age of 16, she drunk and drove and killed a man. It happened again.
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