Driver held in girl's death

Published February 28, 2007

CLEARWATER - The driver who struck and killed a 5-year-old girl near her bus stop Friday could have avoided hitting her if he had paid better attention, authorities said Tuesday.

Kindergartener Esmeralda Donu had just gotten off a school bus about 2:45 p.m. and was walking near the entrance of the Southern Comfort mobile home park at 24479 U.S. 19, authorities say.

Just then, Ausencio Oriano-Quezada, who also lives in the park, was driving to the entrance and struck Esmeralda in the middle of the road, they say.

Esmeralda may have dropped something, causing her to dash in front of Oriano-Quezada's van. But investigators said that if Oriano-Quezada had been more alert, the girl might still be alive.

"It's very clear-cut that he had a lot of negligence on his part," Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Larry Coggins said.

As a result, Oriano-Quezada, 34, was charged with culpable negligence in the girl's death and driving without a valid license.

He was held Tuesday without bail because his immigration status was in question.

Esmeralda was always happy and wanted others to be happy, too, her mother Elycia Donu said

"She cheered us up," she said. "Whenever someone was sad, she'd hug them and say, 'Don't cry. It will be all right.' "

Esmeralda's family moved here in 2003 from Georgia, where she was born. She had a brother, Jose, 7, and two sisters, Jazmine, 2, and Pryscilla, 4 months.

In recent months, she had blossomed, her English skills improving so much that she led her sister in a song about the ABCs.

"She was just beautiful," her mother said.

Esmeralda's death struck classmates and teachers hard at Belleair Elementary School.

"I feel like God gave her extra personality and extra love and extra life, because he knew she'd be here for only a short time," teacher Melissa Quinones said. "She was one of a kind. ... She had big beautiful eyes, long lashes, sparking. She could make you smile just looking at you."

Even as a kindergartener, Esmeralda was a presence at the school and was known by the older students. She was fearless, goading older boys to play tag while they waited for the buses.

"A little tiger," Quinones said.

Eager to learn new things, Esmeralda had flourished in school. She was recently tested on 30 words that kindergarteners should know by sight and had learned them all.

"She just sucked it up and learned so much and worked at it every day," teacher Tracy Albritton said.

Several students have visited with grief counselors this week, including three students who got off the bus with Esmeralda and saw the crash. Others have written letters and drawn pictures for her family.

"It's had a ripple effect through the whole school," principal Robert Ovalle said.

Jacob H. Fries can be reached at 445-4156 or jfries@sptimes.com.