A question of blame hangs over fatality

The grieving family wants the other driver punished. Police don't know who's at fault.

Published February 14, 2007

TAMPA - The friends climbed into separate cars early Saturday, heading home to Tampa on the Courtney Campbell Parkway.

Willie Alvarado drove alone in his purple-gray Honda Civic, his new gold rims shining.

An assistant manager at an auto-detailing shop, Alvarado, 28, loved that car. He lowered the body, gave it a fancy paint job. He bought rims so new they weren't yet in stores.

Near Rocky Point Drive, a white Ford Mustang cut in front of Alvarado at 2:04 a.m., police say. The Civic spun into a piling, flipped several times. The impact tossed Alvarado from the car. He died shortly after at St. Joseph's Hospital.

Alvarado's family wants the Mustang's driver to face charges. They are frustrated with the police, who say the crash is still under investigation.

It's a difficult situation to solve, police say. That's because the only witnesses are Alvarado's friends, who blame the Mustang's driver, and that driver and his passengers, who say Alvarado and his friends were racing on the bridge.

"The white Mustang driver told us it looked like these cars were racing," said Officer Lisa Parashis. "He was trying to get out of their way."

Police won't release the name of the Mustang's driver, citing a pending investigation.

Born in Puerto Rico, Alvarado moved to Tampa in 1992 with his parents and siblings. He found a job at Rent-A-Wheel on Hillsborough Avenue, where he made a niche for himself. He was such a good salesman that everyone called him "Rim Man," said Lemont Williams, his employer and friend.

Alvarado has been cited five times for traffic violations, according to state records.

The violations included driving with a loud sound-making device, using equipment prohibited by law and failing to obey a traffic signal. In March 2006, he was cited for driving 81 mph in a 55 mph zone.

Alvarado's sister-in-law, Amanda Alvarado, 19, lived with him and his family at a home on Lynwood Avenue, south of Gandy Boulevard.

His death devastated the family, she said. The usually loud home is now quiet.

"There's not really any more joking going around," she said. "We're taking it, but it hurts really hard. We're trying to be strong, we want something done, but we also lost one of our loved ones."

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Abbie VanSickle can be reached at 226-3373 or vansickle@sptimes.com.