CORAL GABLES (CBSMiami) — For the first time since a police officer’s car was involved in a horrific crash in 2012 that took the life of a young woman and nearly killed her boyfriend, attorneys were able to question that officer.
Those attorneys had been waiting 20 months to question Hialeah Police Officer Raul Somaribba about the accident that took the life of 21-year-old Andrea Castillo—the daughter of Miami-Dade School Board member Susie Castillo— and nearly killed Andrea’s boyfriend, 24-year-old Marco Barrios.
CBS4’s Peter D’Oench was at the Coral Gables offices of Silva & Silva exclusively as Somaribba showed up with his attorneys for a deposition.
The attorneys for Susie Castillo and Barrios are suing Somaribba and the City of Hialeah.
“Raul Somaribba did everything wrong he could with what is involved in a police chase,” said Barrios’s attorney John Leighton. “He was speeding. He was not using all his lights. He wasn’t using his siren. It was an unauthorized pursuit. He had not been dispatched.”
“Even though the City of Hialeah police originally said speed was not a factor, his own investigator said speed was a factor. The officer was travelling at least 22 miles per hour over the speed limit in an unauthorized pursuit,” said Leighton.
Leighton told D’Oench, “He can’t be going by his own admission more than 10 miles per hour over the speed limit so the most he should have been going was 50 miles per hour. The Hialeah investigation concluded he was going 62 miles per hour at impact in a posted 40 mile per hour zone. And police never considered pre-impact braking, which would increase his speed by 15 miles per hour for every one second of pre-impact braking.”
“Officer Somaribba was not on a call and he had not called in that he was in a pursuit at the time,” said Leighton.
Somaribba declined to say anything while on his way in to the deposition.
Marco Barrios said, “It’s been 20 months and this is the first time there’s a chance for him to say something and he decided to say nothing on the way in. That just shows you he may be trying to hide something. That’s just how I feel. That’s the response we would expect because the City of Hialeah is not cooperating either.”
The City of Hialeah is not commenting about this case and the two attorneys with Barrios including Devang Desai said they had no comment.
The attorneys questioned Somarriba for more than three hours and they say he was not able to answer their questions.
“What we learned today is that Officer Somarriba has zero memory of the events giving rise to the accident,” said Elisabeth Culmo, an attorney for Susie Castillo. “He can’t tell us if he was texting or drunk of if he was recklessly disregarding the speed. He did concede that he was driving 62 miles per hour and that was in excess of the speed that he was allowed to drive.”
“My concern is the tenor I got from the officer is that it continues to look like there is a huge cover up on the part of City Hall,” said Culmo. “Three outside investigative agencies including the Florida Highway Patrol and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Miami-Dade County are investigating and this officer claims he hasn’t spoken to anyone about the accident. No one has asked him about how the accident had occurred.”
Culmo said, “He testified he didn’t have an interest in finding out whose fault it was or what mechanical issues were involved in the accident that took the life of the daughter of my client.”
“The lead police traffic homicide investigator who we deposed earlier this week said neither she nor any detective at her request has ever spoken with Somaribba to find out what he said or determine what he was doing at the time,” said Leighton. “Incredible. Plus she never sought to obtain his cell phone records to see whether he was texting or dialing at the time or was on the phone or if so with whom.”
Leighton said the lead investigator Nancy Perez admitted that the initial statement by police that “speed was not a factor” and that Barrios ran the stop sign were wrong.
“During the deposition, Somaribba said almost nothing. He said he did not remember anything. He has no memoru of anything. He can not remember anything from that night. He also said he did not have a head injury. He said he doesn’t know why he got into the crash.”
“The question I would have for him is why did he choose to abuse his power as a cop,” said Barrios. “There’s no reason to travel that fast in the roadway. I just want this to come to an end. This has been 20 months. It’s been hard on me and my family. It has been hard on Susie Castillo and her family too.”
D’Oench also spoke with Susie Castillo, who released a statement, saying, “My family and I are distraught with the loss of my one and only daughter Andrea. I have always been a mother who teaches her children to obey and respect authorities. After hearing just a bit of the lead Investigator’s deposition today, I am completely disgusted. These officers are the ones who took an oath of honor that includes not only to serve and protect the public but also includes the words ‘hold myself and others accountable for our actions.’ My daughter lost her life and someone has to be held accountable.”
Barrios has recovered from his serious injuries that included a broken collarbone, broken ribs, a fractured pelvis and head trauma and some internal injuries.
“It is painful but I am trying to get better one day at a time,” he said.
Barrios has returned to his job as a manager of a Homestead restaurant after being confined to a wheelchair for four and half months. He has extensive medical bills and says he may never fully recover from all of his injuries.
The accident happened at 9:42 p.m. on Oct. 19, 2012 at the corner of East 9th Court and 49th Street. Surveillance tape obtained by CBS4 shows what happens after the 2012 black jeep driven by Barrios was broadsided by Somarriba’s car. The tape shows the vehicle rolling over and hurtling into and damaging cars at a dealership.
Leighton’s lawsuit said Somaribba failed to operate his vehicle in a safe manner and obey traffic signals and failed to use proper headlights. Leighton said it’s still not clear where Somaribba was heading and why he was driving so fast.
Leighton has said that under Florida’s Sovereign Immunity law, damages in this case against a city are limited to $200,000.