In 2013, Felix Luis C. Rodriguez got in a high-speed crash that killed his younger sister and severely injured his mother.
From the prison where he is serving a vehicular homicide sentence, Rodriguez, 47, is now suing the Enterprise rental car company for leasing him the late-model Ford Edge SUV he was driving that night.
“At the time of the rental I was heavily intoxicated and was not fit to legally drive,” Rodriguez said in a handwritten affidavit.
Incarcerated at the Hartford Correctional Center in Connecticut, he is due to be released in 2028.
According to the suit recently filed in civil court in Hillsborough County, Rodriguez went to an Enterprise Rent-A-Car business at 5402 N Nebraska Ave. in Tampa in March of 2013 with his brother-in-law, Emmanuel Caminero.
In his own affidavit, Caminero said he was having trouble with his car but couldn’t get a rental because his license had expired and there was a warrant for his arrest. Caminero said Rodriguez was so drunk that day he could hardly walk.
Rodriguez did not have a valid driver’s license, according to the lawsuit, so they used his younger brother’s license. The lawsuit alleges that a management trainee at the rental car business who handled the transaction “knew or should have known that the Plaintiff’s intoxication alone made him an unfit driver and/or renting a vehicle to him was foolish or negligent.”
Hours later, Rodriguez was driving the rental SUV on Interstate 95 through Jacksonville at 11 p.m. According to a Florida Highway Patrol report, he was speeding when he came upon a Ford Mustang, flashed his lights to get the Mustang to move over and then tried to pass the car at more than 100 mph. He swerved to avoid another car, the report said, went off the road and slammed into a tree.
His sister, Merarie A. Cuevas, 25, was in the passenger seat. She died at the hospital. Her obituary described her as a home health aide and the youngest of eight siblings.
His mother, Minerva Rodriguez, who was riding in the back, suffered serious injuries described in the lawsuit as “lifelong.”
According to Florida Highway Patrol records, initial testing of Rodriguez’s blood after the wreck revealed alcohol below the legal limit. His charges included vehicular homicide, reckless driving resulting in bodily injury and fraudulent use of personal identification.
His lawsuit claims that both Enterprise and the employee were negligent and says Rodriguez did not have a clear idea of what happened at the rental business that day until Caminero later told him.
An Enterprise official declined via email to comment on pending litigation.
In a letter to Enterprise from prison in September prior to filing his lawsuit, Rodriguez recommended that the rental car company settle with him for $25,000. Otherwise, he wrote, he would seek more than $3 million in damages in court.
©2020 the Tampa Bay Times (St. Petersburg, Fla.)
Visit the Tampa Bay Times (St. Petersburg, Fla.) at www.tampabay.com
Distributed by Tribune