Carlos Manso Blanco was speeding slightly when he barreled his truck into a rental car on the Overseas Highway in Islamorada, killing four Spanish tourists in a grisly wreck that drew international media attention.
He won’t be going to jail. Instead, his punishment was traffic school and the suspension of his driver’s license for six months.
Investigators have decided that Manso’s driving that March afternoon was “careless,” but not reckless — not enough to warrant a vehicular manslaughter charge under state law. Blood tests showed he was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs. And while Manso was going only about 5 mph above the 55-mph speed limit, there was no witness or evidence showing he was swerving or texting while driving.
Monroe County Assistant State Attorney Gail Connolly on Tuesday called the crash “horrific” but said there was simply not enough evidence to show the case was anything more than a tragic accident.
“We have to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt,” Connolly said. “We have to have evidence, not just speculation.”
A lawyer representing Manso, 30, of Marathon, did not return a phone call or an email seeking comment Tuesday.
The decision has not sat well with relatives of the dead Spanish women, all of them attorneys, who are now suing Manso and the company that owned the truck he was driving.
Their Miami lawyer, Carlos Silva, said investigators never pulled phone records to see whether Manson was texting while driving. His legal team has subpoenaed those cell records as part of its probe.
“It’s very sad these four young lawyers come here from Spain and we treat them like this, without doing a full investigation,” Silva said.
The crash happened on the afternoon of March 5 near miler marker 79 on the northern end of Tea Table Bridge. The two-mile stretch of highway runs through the popular spot for fishing, swimming and boating, making it a hot spot for car wrecks. After the crash, Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay lobbied the state to lower the speed limit; it was eventually reduced from 55 mp to 45 mph.
The change came too late for Margarita Cortés-Pardo, 31, María López-Bermejo Rosselló, 31, Teresa Sánchez Quetglas, 30, and Ana Gaitán Díaz, 31, longtime friends from Spain who were vacationing in South Florida and the Keys. They were driving a rented Nissan Rogue.
The Rogue had been driving north but was stopped, with its blinker on, waiting for incoming traffic to pass to make a turn. Suddenly came Manso, driving a large Isuzu truck carrying portable toilets. He smashed into the Rogue, pushing it into oncoming traffic — and directly into the path of a large 2016 Allegro motor home.
The motor home plowed into the rented Rogue, sending it careening into a tree. The impact was so severe — and the Rogue so mangled — that first responders initially believed there were only three victims in the SUV.
At least two cars went around the Rogue on the shoulder before Manso suddenly crashed into the back of the rental SUV, witnesses told investigators. What distracted Manso from the road was unclear.
The Isuzu truck was owned by Manso’s employer, Discount Rock & Sand, of Marathon. The families of the dead Spanish women have filed a negligence suit against Manso and the company in federal court.
In court filings, lawyers for Manso and the company cast blame on Cortés-Pardo, who was driving the rented SUV that was rear-ended. “She negligently operated or maintained the motor vehicle in which she was riding so that it collided with Defendant’s motor vehicle,” attorney Bruce Trybus wrote.
Silva, the lawyer for the victims’ families, bristled at the claim.
“We know the car was parked with the indicator on, with the wheel rotated to cross road,” Silva said. “They did nothing wrong.”
If a settlement is not reached, court records show, lawyers have requested an April 2020 trial date.