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'My son is not coming back'

©Associated Press

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 23, 2001

MIAMI -- A jury on Thursday found Eller Media Co. innocent of manslaughter in the electrocution of a 12-year-old boy at a bus shelter built by the company and wired by an unlicensed electrician.

Eller Media, one of the nation's largest outdoor advertisers, and worker Victor Garcia, 39, were charged with causing the death of Jorge Luis Cabrera.

Prosecutors said Cabrera was electrocuted when he stepped on a conduit pipe at the bus stop.

But defense attorney Roy Black argued that the boy was likely hit by lightning the rainy night of his death, Oct. 12, 1998.

The six-member jury sided with the defense after 13 hours of deliberations over two days.

As the verdict was read, the boy's mother, Martha Serrano, burst out crying, clutching a photo of her son to her chest.

Leaving the courtroom, she sobbed in Spanish: "My son is not coming back."

Outside the courtroom, she and her husband, Jose Serrano, quickly wrote a statement they read to reporters:

"Eller and Garcia know in their heart they did something wrong, and took a little boy's life. . . . I thank my husband for the little 4-year-old boy that sits at home asking, "Where's my big brother?' "

Citing a pending lawsuit against Eller Media and Garcia, she said the family would continue to "fight for justice."

The night he died, Cabrera had sneaked away from home after arguing with his mother and stepfather. His body was found the next morning, lying against the shelter.

In a statement on behalf of Cabrera's father, Jorge Cabrera Sr., attorney Roberto Martinez noted that five Eller Media employees have so far refused to testify in the civil suit, citing their right against self-incrimination.

"Now that the criminal case is over, it may be more difficult for Eller Media and its employees to hide behind the Fifth Amendment," the statement read in part. "Hopefully, they will now come forward to testify fully. The civil jury will be the first jury to hear all the facts in the case."

Eller Media's attorney Black and Mark Seiden, Garcia's attorney, offered their clients' sympathies to the family. Garcia left court with no comment.

"This was a real tragedy in the death of this young boy," Black said. He said Eller Media "is taking this situation seriously" and will "point out the danger of lightning" in a safety awareness program.

Phoenix-based Eller Media's parent company is San Antonio-based Clear Channel Communications, the nation's largest radio broadcaster. If convicted, Eller Media could have been fined up to $10,000.

Garcia could have faced a prison sentence of up to 17 years.

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