ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — The family of a young woman killed in a hit-and-run last month is calling for upgraded charges against the driver who witnesses said was drinking before slamming into another vehicle, causing a chain-reaction crash that led to the victim being thrown from her motorcycle.
Channel 9 investigative reporter Karla Ray spoke with the woman’s grieving family, and Florida Highway Patrol, about why those charges could take months, if at all, even though the driver admitted she was behind the wheel.
FHP’s Troop D, which covers Central Florida, worked 41 hit-and-runs on Oct. 16, 2020, including the one that killed Stephanie Ortiz. It’s an overwhelming number, and investigators are always at the mercy of lab results that can take weeks or months to come back to help prove cases. In cases like Ortiz’s, even though witnesses said the suspected at-fault driver was impaired, it’s on troopers to prove it. That’s tough to do after someone leaves a scene.
The intersection of Percival and Lake Pickett roads will never be the same for Ortiz’s family.
“Walking away from the scene, that’s not something a human being would do,” Stephanie’s brother Christopher Ortiz said.
Carlos and Christopher Ortiz live just minutes away from the intersection where their sister was left for dead in the October hit-and-run. The young woman, an avid motorcyclist, was hit by an SUV in a chain-reaction crash after 22-year-old Kimberly Guzman Lijeron sped through the intersection and slammed into that SUV, investigators say. Troopers said Guzman Lijeron then called her friend, Jacqueline Solano, to pick her up from the scene.
“Seconds matter, seconds matter, and this girl made sure Stephanie didn’t get all the benefits she could by paramedics,” attorney John Overchuck said. “She left, worried about herself, not my client.”
Overchuck represents the family and is calling for an upgrade to the charges against Guzman Lijeron, who was found at an apartment after a witness who stayed at the scene of the crash identified her as the driver. That witness told troopers they were “drinking and attended an after party,” and when Guzman Lijeron was arrested for leaving the scene, she admitted she was driving but said that she “couldn’t recall what had happened,” according to an arrest report.
“When we suspect somebody’s been drinking, and they leave the scene of a crash, there’s not a continuation of them being at the scene, being in full view, being looked at by law enforcement or witnesses,” Lt. Kim Montes said.
Montes said it’s not enough to prove that someone was driving or that they were drunk at the time of their arrest. The challenge is to prove the suspected driver was drunk at the time of impact.
“Ultimately, it’s going to be our burden to prove she did not consume alcohol after the collision,” Montes said.
For the family, even if more charges are brought, it won’t help them with the question of whether Stephanie would’ve had a chance to survive if she had gotten help sooner.
“I can’t understand how someone can do that type of thing, how you can call that person a human being, how can you just leave someone there laying for their life,” Stephanie’s mother Olga Ortiz said.
Because the alleged at-fault driver was arrested within hours, it actually gives troopers less time to build a case due to speedy trial constraints. We reached out to Guzman Lijeron’s attorney, but have not heard back.