‘We were a great family’: Dad now lives to honor his wife and two kids killed in 107 mph crash [Sun Sentinel]

Jun. 10Gilberto Martinez says he lives each day to honor the wife, young son and daughter he lost in a catastrophic car crash a year ago in Delray Beach.

For the 42-year-old Mexico City lawyer, this means helping run a new charity for disadvantaged children in his country, named in memory of his loved ones. But Martinez, despite suffering a devastating tragedy, refuses to dwell on what becomes of the driver criminally charged with killing his family.

“To be honest with you, I don’t want to get involved and worry about what happens to him,” Martinez told the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “Of course I want that guy to pay for what he did. But that will never bring back my family.”

Killed instantly in the April 28, 2018, wreck on South Federal Highway were Veronica Mariel Raschiotto, 42, an accountant, Diego Martinez Raschiotto, 8, a third-grader, Mia Martinez Raschiotto, 6, a first-grader; and Veronica’s brother, Jorge Claudio Raschiotto, 50, a university professor from Argentina.

They were in South Florida for a family reunion; Gilberto Martinez was not with them due to work commitments.

Paul Wilson Streater, the driver of the pickup that rear-ended the victims’ minivan, is from Broward. Prosecutors allege he was impaired — from huffing chemicals in his system — when he slammed his 2010 Chevrolet Silverado at 107 mph into a 2018 Dodge Caravan carrying the victims. The road has a 45 mph speed limit.

Martinez says he gets occasional updates about the prosecution, but has no plans to attend the trial, which could happen before the end of the year.

“I don’t want to be in court with this guy. I don’t need that,” said Martinez, an attorney who specializes in intellectual property law, with a focus on trademark and copyright cases.

Martinez says he’s not out for vengeance or a particular punishment. “He killed four persons so I guess that’s like the biggest sentence he will always have. His life is destroyed, and I’m sure today he’s worse off than me.”

Was driver high on Dust-off?

The defense claims Streater, 22, was speeding uncontrollably because of a malfunction that caused the pickup to experience sudden acceleration that night. A witness said he swerved from one of the southbound lanes into a left-turn lane, where the Caravan was waiting to go east on Lamat Avenue.

“The car was accelerating through no fault of Paul,” said attorney Samuel Halpern, who plans to argue the Silverado couldn’t be stopped after Streater hit the brakes.

He contends Streater — who was unharmed aside from some bruises and scrapes — showed no signs of intoxication right after the crash, despite a blood sample including Difluoroethane, the main ingredient in Dust-Off, a brand name of compressed air canisters for cleaning computers and electronics.

Streater is charged with four felony counts of DUI manslaughter, four felony counts of vehicular homicide, and three misdemeanor charges of DUI causing or contributing to injury to person or property. The felonies are altogether punishable by up to 120 years in prison.

After pleading not guilty, Streater has remained in Palm Beach County Jail for nearly a year because he’s been unable to afford a $400,000 bond.

A native of Texas and the son of commercial airline pilots, Streater’s resume includes less than a year of working on charter boats and as a cook.

On May 17, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley agreed to reduce the bond to $115,000, which should enable Streater to go on house arrest with a GPS ankle monitor. Halpern said he expects his client to be released soon.

Court battles heat up

In a major victory for the prosecution, Judge Kelley on May 13 ruled prosecutors may tell the jury that Difluoroethane, the chemical known to produce a high by huffing, was detected in Streater’s blood.

Also, the prosecution can tell the jury that Streater and Tyler Fowler, his front-seat passenger and roommate, bought Dust-off at a Walmart less than four hours before the crash. There is store surveillance video and a receipt in evidence.

Halpern fears once the jury learns about the Dust-off, a guilty verdict is all but assured.

“Put another way, you can throw a skunk into the jury box and ask them not to smell it, but really, what good does that do?” he argued.

Streater’s lawyer argued that the inhalant produces only a short-term high of five to 20 minutes, yet stays in the blood for up to 22 hours. No cans of Dust-off were found in Streater’s truck.

Halpern says there is no indication the chemical in Streater’s blood had any role in the crash, and it is impossible to prove otherwise. He said the state’s toxicologist was unable to determine when or how the chemical was absorbed in Streater’s body.

The lawyer also pointed out Streater didn’t appear impaired when he spoke with officers and other witnesses. Halpern said Streater was wearing his seat belt and driving at proper speeds until less than a mile before the crash, when the Silverado suddenly raced out of control. Streater told police that his accelerator was stuck.

Streater has had some wins in court before his trial. That includes the judge’s decision to forbid witnesses from testifying that it was “the worst crash they have ever seen” or any other “hyperbole.” Also, among other details, jurors won’t be told that police found drug items, such as rolling papers and a spoon, inside Streater’s truck.

Moving forward

Gilberto Martinez, meanwhile, is doing his best to recover from losing his wife and kids in a flash. To help overcome his grief, he pictures his family in heaven looking down at him.

“I always think, how do they want to see me? I’m living, I’m working, I’m smiling, and I’m spending every day honoring their memory and making them be proud of me. They will never see me sad or destroyed or in a deep depression because I know the three of them are close to me.”

Martinez agreed with his therapist that he would honor his wife and children by going on a planned family vacation to Russia, to watch World Cup soccer games including teams from Mexico and Argentina. He went with two friends. The trip last June made international news and attracted the attention of the players.

Martinez wore a T-shirt with the words “Vero, Diego, Mia, always with me.”

Martinez also has established the Vero, Diego & Mia Foundation in Mexico City. The organization runs sports and health programs to help girls and boys ages 6 to 12 who are “in situations of social vulnerability.” So far, it has raised money to serve 80 kids.

Martinez says it’s taken longer for him to accept the loss of his own children. “They died quite young, I miss them,” he said of Diego, who played on three soccer teams, and Mia, who loved to dance and sing. “Now a lot of people all over the world know about them, how we were a great family.”

Not long after the crash, Martinez hired a personal injury law firm to explore the possibility of a wrongful death civil lawsuit against Streater, the truck manufacturer and possibly others.

But Martinez says the matter was dropped after an investigation concluded there was no way to recover money.

Attorney Scott B. Smith of West Palm Beach, who had represented Martinez, called it “one of the worst tragedies I’ve ever come across. It’s just so hard to comprehend. Four human beings are not supposed to die in a motor vehicle crash.”

For that reason, Streater’s side doesn’t want jurors to see “gruesome” photos from the crash scene.

Judge Kelley said he will rule later after reviewing the images that Assistant State Attorney Danielle Sherriff plans to use.

“I know that this is a very emotional case, and we’re all human,” Halpern said. “Let’s just try to keep it to the facts, and not inflame people.”


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