KEY LARGO (CBSMiami) – A two-year-old child who wandered away from his home in the middle of the night was struck and killed by a vehicle on U.S. 1.
The Florida Highway Patrol says the driver, 63-year-old Edward Krajewski of Pennsylvania, thought he had struck an animal or debris so he kept on going southbound until he was stopped by a Monroe County Sheriff’s deputy at mile marker 26, which is 74 miles south of the accident.
“It’s a sad, sad thing,” said Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Joe Sanchez. “In my 25 years, this is the first time I have ever seen this. It’s really sad for a 2 year-old child to lose his life walking out of his residence and walking on to U.S. 1, which is a very dangerous road.”
Sanchez told CBS4’s Peter D’Oench that the child was struck by the car at 12:43 a.m. just south of the Mile Marker 100 sign.
“The driver kept on going because he thought he hit an animal or debris,” said Sanchez. “He just didn’t realize he hit a 2 year old child at the scene.”
The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office said the parents of the child, identified as Austen Mark Alward, called the Sheriff’s Office just after midnight to say they had been searching for their son for about 30 minutes and could not find him.
Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Becky Herrin said all available deputies from the Sheriff’s Office responded, along with officers from FHP and Customs and Border protection, who were in the area and heard the call.
Herrin said officers and family members searched the home and surrounding area for about 20 minutes before the child was found. He had been hit by a car on the southbound side of the highway and was in the median.
Alward was transported to Mariner’s Hospital where he was pronounced dead.
A BOLO—a be-on-the-lookout bulleting—was issued for a vehicle that might have front end damage.
Law enforcement sources told D’Oench there is no evidence that alcohol was a factor.
It’s also not clear how the child was able to reach U.S. 1.
He lived in a two-story home on Sunset Boulevard that is surrounded by a fence with a gate that this neighbors said was always closed in the daytime and at night.
Rolfe Griffin, who lives in a home next to the Alwards, told D’Oench, “I can’t believe. I have seen the child running around in the daytime. It’s horrible. The gate’s closed. I mean the gate is closed. How did he get out?”
The manager of the Shell Station by Mile Marker 100 said there was surveillance tape from the time of the accident but it did not show anything and would not be useful in the investigation.
Neighbors said Austen was the Alward’s only child. A local pastor who did not want to give his name said the parents and the grandparents were overwhelmed by this tragedy and were requesting privacy.
D’Oench also met with Key Largo Firefighter-paramedics who responded to the call. But they were not allowed to comment on camera.
Key Largo Fire Rescue Chief Sergio Garcia told D’Oench that “As in any accident of this nature, we are bringing in a psychologist to talk to them to make sure they are ok after responding to such an incident.”
A savings account has been set up by the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office Victims Advocate for the family of Austen Alward. Those wishing to donate to the savings account—number 243-848-6728—can do so at any Wells Fargo Bank.