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Florida--Firey I-95 Crash...Police Wonder>>Suicide??

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  • Florida--Firey I-95 Crash...Police Wonder>>Suicide??

    Fiery crash on I-95 a suicide in disguise?
    Investigators say Carlos Vila's death in a burning Chevrolet Blazer was highly unusual. It was ruled a suicide, but his family says no way.
    BY HANNAH SAMPSON
    [email protected]


    Family: No way crash cloaked a suicide

    Carlos Alberto Vila, husband, father and grandfather, was burned alive as horrified passersby struggled to rescue him from a Chevrolet Blazer engulfed in flames on the side of I-95.

    Now, Vila's grieving family faces another shock: a ruling by the Broward Medical Examiner that Vila committed suicide.

    They cannot imagine why investigators would say the 53-year-old newspaper deliveryman and antiques salesman deliberately refused to get out of the burning car the morning of Sept. 30 and allowed himself to be burned alive. The case still is under investigation, but nagging questions remain.

    ''It makes no sense,'' said Vila's daughter, Marcela, 22, a Broward Community College student, who said she spent several hours with her father two days before he died. ``We were talking for hours. . . watching TV and laughing. . .I don't understand. I don't believe it. I can't accept it.''

    Many things are still not known about how Vila died.

    Here's what investigators do know:

    Vila was driving his 1996 SUV north on I-95 in the right lane south of Interstate 595 when witnesses behind him saw the rear burst into flames.

    Vila didn't pull off on the right shoulder; instead he continued driving the burning SUV, crossing several left lanes and crashed against the inside median wall, just south of Interstate 595. ''I believe he had enough time to get out of that car,'' said truck driver Peter Cruz, who was following behind the SUV.

    Then, Cruz and other witnesses say he drove back across the lanes onto the right shoulder, where the SUV struck a road sign and, still burning, went off on the side into a grassy area. The Fort-Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport was just to the east.

    Cruz joined several good Samaritans who stopped and rushed over. Vila, who seemed to be moving around, did not speak or look at him, Cruz said.

    The windows were up. Vila's seat belt was fastened.

    Cruz, 49, of Hialeah Gardens, grabbed a fire extinguisher from a tow truck driver, who had also stopped, and smashed the driver-side window, then opened the door.

    ''He was already in flames from the waist up,'' Cruz said. 'I yelled at him. I told him in Spanish, `Give me your hand.' He reached out; his hand was on fire. . . It looked like something was holding him back.''

    Cruz said Vila ``grabbed the tip of my hand and then he slumped.''

    Still, Cruz has a hard time believing Vila committed suicide.

    ''I'm not a medical person or a psychologist to say whether he attempted to commit suicide,'' Cruz said. ``When he reached out, he was trying to get out of the car.''

    Investigators said the body was so badly burned it was initially difficult to determine whether the driver was male or female.

    The state fire marshal's office is running tests on the charred vehicle to determine how the blaze started, specifically to find out if an accelerant was used.

    Test results may take a week or longer, said Lt. Joseph Schwartz.

    He said investigators examined evidence at the scene and found no indication of a mechanical malfunction.

    Family members say they knew of nothing in Vila's life that would have led to a suicide ruling.

    Vila, born in Chile, moved his family to South Florida in 1993 to be closer to relatives. He had been married to his wife Aida, 50, for 30 years. They have two daughters -- Marcela, and Karla Vila, 29 -- and a 6-year-old granddaughter, Nicole.

    Karla Vila said her parents were always together. When her father went off to work in Argentina, back when the family lived in Chile, her mother would catch a flight to be with him.

    They had worked together selling antiques at the Fort Lauderdale Swap Shop on weekends, a job he did by himself during the week after delivering newspapers for The Herald.

    He was a good employee and ''an all-around nice guy,'' said Mary Kobb, Vila's boss in The Herald's Pembroke Pines distribution center.

    Vila delivered The Herald to homes in Pembroke Pines seven days a week for about six years, Kobb said. He called in sick the night before his death, sounding congested. Kobb assumed he would be back at work soon because he was a faithful worker. Suicide would ''never even cross my my mind,'' she said.

    Family members say they don't know where he had been before the mid-morning accident. They figured he might have run out on an errand and was heading to his Fort Lauderdale home near State Road 84.

    Investigators are looking into the possibility that Vila was disoriented, overcome by fumes. They're also checking for a life insurance. They're doing a thorough background check, looking for financial or health problems, Ferrell said.

    But family members say there was no insurance policy. Aida Vila works at a Fort Lauderdale-area company called Uniweld. Both adult daughters live on their own, but visit their parents often.

    Christian Castro said his older brother was in good health. He was suffering from a cold. ''There are just too many things that don't add up,'' Castro said.

    Even FHP investigators had not yet confirmed the medical examiner's suicide ruling, saying ''other factors'' have to be ruled out first.

    ''We're not calling this a suicide. We probably won't get that answer for some time yet,'' Ferrell said earlier. ``Our investigation is not done.''

    Cruz, the truck driver, still has nightmares about the fatal blaze.

    ''God knows that I did everything in my power to try and help that man,'' he said.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

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