Vet’s family: CT street racing drivers should face harsh penalties
Clad in an orange T-shirt printed with the words, “Justice for Our Soldier,” Liza Herrera told the state legislature’s Judiciary Committee last month that her daughter’s death in a Shelton street racing incident could have been prevented.
“I think often, if only the laws had been stricter with regard to street racing, the drivers of the two cars involved might have thought twice before they decided to race without regard to their lives, the passengers or passersby that day,” Herrera said.
Herrera and her husband, Jesus, and other family members are seeking a change in state law to stiffen the penalties for illegal racing. They are calling for fines to increase to $600 from $150 and a one-year prison term for those found guilty of street racing. They are also proposing a fine up to $3,500 and up to three years in jail for those found guilty of negligent homicide for street racing.
“I don’t want any parent to go through this,” said Herrera, who lives in West Haven. “My daughter isn’t the first to die this way.”
Shalymar Herrera had just returned from seven months of training with the U.S. Army Reserve when she decided to spend an afternoon with friends in Shelton on April 8, 2018, her mother said. Hours later, Liza Herrera and her husband received the phone call that every parent fears.
Their 18-year-old daughter had been killed in a horrific car crash. Herrera later learned that the accident, which also killed her daughter’s best friend who was eight months pregnant, was caused by illegal street racing. The unborn child, named Luna Rose, also died from the crash.
“This was all new to me,” Herrera said of the court process that followed the accident. “We were in shock. Illegal street racing is a $75 fine. That doesn’t make sense, three people died. I want their license taken away when there’s a death. We need to increase that fine and we need to increase the time they spend in prison.”
Jelian Herrera admitted he was nervous about testifying in favor of the law, but told the committee his sister was his best friend.
“Losing my sister has been the hardest thing that has ever happened to me,” the 11-year-old said. “Sometimes it’s hard to concentrate in school because I am thinking of my sister and all of the memories I had with her. I am sad when I see my mother crying and my dad suffering, too.”
Their father said the punishment for illegal racing doesn’t fit the crime.
“A car at a high speed can be a weapon,” Jesus Herrera said. “You put danger on yourself and you put it on other people.”
Lawsuits filed by Liza Herrera, as the administrator of her daughter’s estate, and three members of the New Haven-based band Like Violet who were injured in the crash, indicate that Shalymar Herrera’s friends were traveling at speeds of more than 80 mph on River Road where the speed limit is between 35 to 45 mph.
Lawrence Carter, 20, of Bridgeport, was driving a Mini Cooper with his pregnant wife, Briana Torres-Carter, 23, in the front passenger seat. Shalymar Herrera and a fourth person were in the back. Liza Herrera contends that Carter and Abdulaziz Yuldoshev, 20, of Hamden, had agreed to a street race.
“Shaly” had come home to prepare for college last April 1, her mother said.
“I had her one week before she died,” Liza Herrera said.
The 18-year-old spent the morning of April 8 with her mother and brother Jelian, but planned on meeting up with friends later in the day.
“We are old fashioned,” her mother said. “We ordinarily wouldn’t let her drive with anyone, but she had been on her own for seven months. She was 18. I still can’t believe I said she could go.”
At some point, Shalymar Herrera texted her parents, asking if she could go out to dinner with the group.
“Even though she was 18 and in the Army, she still texted to ask,” her mother said. The family exchanged texts with her until about 6:40 p.m. Within 30 minutes, she was dead, her mother said.
Carter and Yuldoshev were each traveling south on River Road in Shelton at high speeds, chasing and passing each other, the lawsuits said. Carter lost control of his car after Yuldoshev cut him off, sending the Mini Cooper into the on-coming lane where he smashed head-on into a Saturn carrying the three band members.
The aftermath of the crash has been devastating, Jesus Herrera said.
“It’s been so hard, I really can’t describe it,” he said. “The emptiness, it’s a lot of different feelings, it’s a roller coaster. Sometimes I’m angry and then I go back to empty, but I try to not show it for my son, I try to keep going for him.”
Both men were charged with manslaughter, negligent homicide, illegal racing and four counts of first-degree assault. They are each free on $50,000 bond.
Even though each of the assault charges carry a maximum sentence of 20 years, Liza Herrera realizes it’s unlikely either will see any jail time.
“I don’t miss one day,” Herrera said of attending each of the defendants’ court appearances. “That’s the only thing I could do. I want them to see my face.”
Torres-Carter’s mother, who has filed a lawsuit against the two drivers, also testified March 25 in favor of the proposed bill.
Illegal street racing has become a growing problem in Connecticut.
One week before the crash, Hartford police arrested more than 50 people during an organized illegal street racing incident in their city.
Two days before Shalymar Herrera died, a Bridgeport man was killed in a street racing incident in Stratford. Two Bridgeport men have been charged in his death.
Like Carter and Yuldoshev, the Bridgeport men are facing several motor vehicles charges, including illegal racing. Their cases are pending.
Liza Herrera and her family plan to visit the Shelton crash site for the first time on the one-year anniversary on Monday. The family will hold a motorcycle and car run on Aug. 11 at the Savin Rock Conference Center in West Haven. The proceeds will benefit a female homeless veteran.
“I know my daughter is watching me saying, ‘you are a strong person, you can do it,’” Herrera said. “I want people to understand that driving a car you can put other people in danger. I am a mother, I want everyone to get the message.”