SOUTHWEST MIAMI-DADE, FLA. (WSVN) - A South Florida high school coach opened up about the loss of one of his players after, police said, he was fatally struck by a driver who fled the scene.
The news of the crash that took the life of 17-year-old Justin Rivera in Southwest Miami-Dade, Friday morning, dealt a heavy blow to family members, friends and teammates.
Speaking with 7News on Sunday, Victor Silva, the victim’s coach at Southridge Senior High School, said the teen never missed a practice.
“It’s heartbreaking. Disbelief was one of the first things that came to my mind, like getting kicked in the gut, you know?” said Silva. “Something so real is finding out one of your players is not there anymore, knowing that a few hours [before the crash] he was playing a game.”
The coach said Rivera, a punter with the Southridge Spartans, was hitting his stride on and off the field.
Sylva said he was a beloved big brother, as well as a respectful person who gave his all with a positive attitude when facing new challenges.
“Anything we did, he’d be one of the first ones when we run, always willing to help out the team,” said Sylva.
Last Friday, the coach said, Rivera was likely heading to the school’s weight room before going to class.
“I do believe that he would wake up at 5 o’clock and work out because he had that drive,” said Silva.
Miami-Dade Police said the victim was jogging along Southwest 152nd Street when a driver jumped the curb and drove onto the sidewalk.
Investigators said the driver of a 2018 Volkswagen Passat rammed into Rivera.
The teen was pronounced dead at the scene, one week before his final homecoming game.
The next day, police arrested Maria Rodriguez. They said the 23-year-old driver did not stop or call 911.
Instead, police said, the suspect drove off, leaving the high school senior injured and alone.
“Leaving someone there, not rendering aid, is appalling,” said Silva.
Rivera leaves behind several brothers and sisters and a large, loving family.
Family members said they’re praying for justice but are already confident Rivera is in a better place.
Rodriguez bonded out of jail hours after her arrest.
Rivera will be honored during the team’s homecoming game, Friday night.
A GoFundMe page has been created for his family to help with funeral expenses. If you would like to make a donation, click here.
Rivera’s mother told 7News she wants to thank the community for their outpouring of support and love for her son.
His younger brother said Rivera was the best big brother.
Rivera’s Celebration of Life Ceremony will be held on Saturday, Nov. 6 at the Miami Vineyard Church located at 12727 SW 122 Ave. A time for the ceremony has not yet been revealed but will be posted on the GoFundMe page.
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