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Crash kills local guardsman who served in Afghanistan

By JUSTIN GEORGE
Published January 18, 2007


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TAMPA - Stephany Diaz told her husband the news: She was pregnant.

It would be Stephany and Christian's second child. Three-year-old Thalia had come first, and Mr. Diaz, 23, cried when he saw her again after he came back from Afghanistan just five months ago.

The news made Mr. Diaz, a man with a big laugh known for his incessant "Spanglish" jokes, puff his chest up. He was going to be a daddy again. He drove a truck for Pepsi and planned to buy a house. He got a haircut. He was going to take his wife to dinner that very night, Saturday, to celebrate.

But there was still time before the date.

He hopped on his all-terrain vehicle and rode around the family's big back yard near Brandon before he slipped onto 86th Street.

A sport utility vehicle seemed to be pulling into a driveway in front of him. Mr. Diaz didn't see the vehicle pull back out.

The ATV collided with the car.

A day later, Mr. Diaz was pronounced dead of head injuries at a hospital. A family, who had braced for the worst during his combat time, was left unprotected.

Their guard dropped the day Mr. Diaz came home.

"He passed grenades and bullets and all these things over there," said his aunt, Zaiba Diaz. "He came home. It was a nice day outside. He went around. ... It's truly devastating."

Mr. Diaz was born in Puerto Rico. He lived in the Bronx and then Connecticut, where he graduated from high school and met his wife.

He moved to Tampa about three years ago with his father, mother and family. He was always daring and loved challenges, said his father, Wilfredo Garcia. He played high school football and was an easy sign for the Armed Forces recruiter. His family said he beamed when he came home telling them he had joined the National Guard.

Garcia was proud. He promised his son a motorcycle if he finished boot camp with honors. Mr. Diaz did, and waiting for him was a Yamaha YZF 600R, a 417-pound rocket that could hit 150 mph and satisfy his need for speed.

Garcia recalled giving his son just one order.

"I want you to bring yourself back in one piece," he told Diaz before he left for Afghanistan.

"He listened and he came back."

When Mr. Diaz is buried this weekend, some parts will be missing.

"After he died, we found out he was an organ donor," Zaiba Diaz said. "He saved six lives."

His heart, she said, is somewhere in Maryland.

Mr. Diaz's survivors include his wife, Stephany; his daughter, Thalia; his parents, Wilfredo and Haydee Garcia; and two sisters, Jennifer and Valerie. A funeral service for Mr. Diaz will take place Friday at Brewer and Sons Funeral Home, Tampa. He will be buried at noon Saturday at Florida National Cemetery, Bushnell.

Justin George can be reached at 813 226-3368 or jgeorge@sptimes.com.

[Last modified January 18, 2007, 05:49:11]


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