FT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – Five months after a wrong way wreck on the Sawgrass Expressway which claimed two lives, the driver who reportedly caused the crash made her first appearance before a judge.
Kayla Mendoza, 21, was taken into custody Monday by the Florida Highway Patrol and charged with two counts of DUI Manslaughter (Impairment), two counts of DUI Manslaughter (Unlawful Blood Alcohol Level), two counts of Vehicle Homicide and two counts of Driving without a License Causing Death in the deaths of Marisa Catronio and Kaitlyn Ferrante.
Mendoza appeared before Circuit Judge John “Jay” Hurley in a wheelchair. Her attorney told the judge that without giving too much away that Mendoza may have been the victim of involuntary intoxication. Hurley said he understood what the attorney was getting at but pointed to a post she made to Twitter before the crash which stated she was “2 drunk 2 care.”
Hurley told the family members of the women who died he could not hold her without bond because of the charges. He then set a bond amount of $600,000. If she makes bond, she will be placed under house arrest. She must also surrender her passport, she will not be allowed to leave Broward County without the court’s approval. There will be no drugs or alcohol and she will have to undergo random testing for these substances.
Ferrante and Catronio’s families said Monday they wondered why this process took so long to culminate in an arrest. But after they saw all of the evidence that had to be collected and analysis that needed to be done before an arrest could happen they understood.
The FHP said Mendoza was driving the wrong-way on the highway when she slammed into Catronio’s car. Catronio, 21, was killed and Ferrante, who was driving the car, was seriously injured and later died.
“She changed the lives of our family forever,” said Gary Catronio, Marisa’s father. “You took my baby girl. You took my wife’s best friend. You made bad decisions that night. The right decision was to have a friend drive you home.”
Investigators said Mendoza had a blood alcohol level nearly twice the legal limit after the accident along with marijuana in her blood. At least ten drivers called 911 in the early morning hours of that day to report seeing a wrong way driver blasting through traffic at an estimated speed callers said was close to 100 miles per hour.
In a search warrant, investigators said witnesses told them Mendoza, who did not have a driver’s license, was drinking at the Tijuana Taxi Co. in Coral Springs prior to the crash.
Christine Ferrante, Kaitlyn’s mother, said she hopes Mendoza never gets another chance to enjoy her freedom.
“I don’t want her to ever feel the sunshine ever,” Ferrante said. “I want her to stay locked away forever.”
One of the reasons it’s been so hard for the victim’s family’s the past five months is they knew Kaitlyn and Marisa were never coming back yet Mendoza was still able to live her life.
“We need to see her in that courtroom — not wearing what we’re wearing, wearing that jumpsuit and knowing that she destroyed a life and now she destroyed her own,” said Kaitlyn’s sister, Ashely Ferrante. “She made her bed and she has to lie in this now.”
The Catronio and Ferrante families are suing Tijuana Taxi alleging that “Throughout the evening of November 16, 2013 and the early morning hours of November 17, 2013, Tijuana Taxi Co., willfully sold or furnished alcoholic beverages to Mendoza, a minor not of the lawful drinking age.” Mendoza was only 20 years only on the day of the crash.