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Prosecutor: Father Could Have Prevented Child’s Death By Using Car Seat

May 3, 1991

MIAMI (AP) _ A man charged with vehicular homicide in the death of his 3-year-old daughter drove recklessly and failed to protect his child by putting her in a safety seat, a prosecutor said Thursday.

″If Veronica Silva had been in a child restraint seat in the back of the car, she may have been bruised ... but she would be alive today,″ prosecutor Mark Vargo said in opening arguments in the trial of Ramiro de Jesus Rodriguez. ″Instead, she was thrown forward so fast that the force of the accident literally split her head open.″

Rodriguez is charged with violating a Florida law that requires very young children to be restrained while in a moving car.

States increasingly are legislating stricter auto safety measures for young children and Rodriguez’s case is believed to be the first to go to trial for violation of such a law, lawyers in the case say.

In 1983 in Cincinnati, a man was found innocent of vehicular homicide in the death of his 2-year-old son, who fell out of the passenger door of the pickup truck. The man, however, was not charged under Ohio’s child-restraint law.

Rodriguez was making a left turn when his car collided with an oncoming van Aug. 3. His daughter, who was sitting on her mother’s lap, smashed into the front of the car and died of head injuries.

″He ignored the fact he could not see, that he was making a blind turn,″ Vargo said. ″The fact that the man who did these things is her father is not an excuse.″

The doctor who treated Veronica in the emergency room at Miami Children’s Hospital testified he found no seatbelt marks on the child. Dr. Richard Raffaele described in graphic detail the child’s extensive head injuries. The child died later that day.

″If she had been either in the front seat or the back seat appropriately buckled in a child restraint, she would not have sustained her injuries,″ he said.

Defense attorney Reemberto Diaz disputed Vargo’s version of how the accident occurred, and appealed to the six jurors’ ″sense of justice and fairness.″

″August 3rd was the last day this man saw his child alive. You can’t undo that,″ said Diaz. ″That is a tragedy that will haunt him the rest of his life. ... He cared for that child and wanted the best for that child.″

Rodriguez, 30, an immigrant from Nicaragua, cannot speak English and has a translator next to him in the courtroom.

Diaz said he has not yet decided if he’ll put Rodriguez on the witness stand.

If convicted, Rodriguez faces up to five years in prison, but prosecutors have said they will seek probation.

″Our position is that a crime did not occur,″ Diaz said outside the courtroom. ″I don’t think this man ever wanted to put his daughter’s life in danger.″

Rodriguez wasn’t arrested until nearly three months after the accident.

The short-order cook at a restaurant in Hialeah said he didn’t know why so much time had been spent on his case when prosecutors could be pursuing more important matters. The child’s mother, Carmen Silva, said an injustice was committed when Rodriguez was charged.

The defense maintains the couple had the best intentions when they took his car for a short trip to a store. Veronica had a fever and rash that day and her mother wanted to hold the child, Diaz said.

Florida law requires car seats for children under age 4 and seat belts for 4 and 5-year-olds.

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