Family and friends honor victims six months after fatal accident (includes photo gallery)

Victims of fatal car accident gathered with friends / Photo courtesy of Andres Medina)

In a West Dade Starbucks, Andres Medina recalls the day six months ago when his daughter, FIU student Yuhlia Medina, and three others were killed in a violent car crash in which a 16-year-old was driving 111 miles per hour.

The teen accused of causing the accident, Alex Garcia, had traces of alcohol and marijuana in his system. He has pleaded not guilty to manslaughter charges.

And, says Medina, Garcia has not apologized.

“[When] he was surrendering and walking in the precinct, he had a cockiness about him,” said Medina. “And I think [he] thought that he was going to get out of it for some reason.”

On Jan. 1, 2021, Yuhlia Medina, Andre Zacarías, Jenser Salazar and Christian Mohip were killed when their Hyundai Elantra was hit around 3:30 a.m. by a Chevy Tahoe driven by Garcia stated Lt. Alex Camacho, a Florida Highway Patrol Spokesman.

In the months since, dozens of people have contributed over $40,000 in donations for the victims’ funerals. However, the families of the dead have continued to mourn the loss of their loved ones.

The event was notable because so many lives were lost in a single incident, said Camacho.

“We do have a fair share of fatalities,” said Camacho, “but it’s very rare to see four people lose their lives as a result of just one crash.” 

Yuhlia’s father described her as an intelligent, hardworking young woman who was a light to those around her. 

“She never took vacations,” Andres Medina said. “Everybody just loved her; she gave her friends confidence.” 

Yuhlia, 21, was set to graduate with a degree in psychology this past spring. Her father said that while she wasn’t sure what her career path would be, she aimed to earn her master’s degree and use her education to help children in need. 

“[Psychology] was just something that she was interested in since she was little,” Medina said, adding that her desire to help kids started with volunteer work in high school. “She used to hate seeing kids going through any trouble.” 

Her boyfriend Christian Mohip had known Yuhlia since middle school, and the two even went to prom together. Christian, who was a year older than Yuhlia, was a brave, affectionate man who loved sports and wanted to be a physical therapist, his father Felix said.

“He was a mentor and everybody’s friend,” said Felix Mohip. “He started playing soccer when he was five, and played basketball, football, and later started MMA.” 

Andres Medina added with a sad smile: “I always felt like [Christian] was royalty when I was in his presence… I was happy that he was the guy dating my daughter.” 

Their friends Jenser and Andre were also a part of a larger friend group. The two had been friends since kindergarten. 

“Jenser was like a big teddy bear,” said Medina laughing. “He was the bodyguard of the group.” 

Medina and Mohip said the members of their childrens’ friend group had a special bond with one another. They said that the group, with around 25 kids in total, would spend holidays together and were like family to each other. 

“They did Friendsgiving together… they even spent Christmas together,” said Medina. 

On December 31, 2020, the friend group had one of those get-togethers. After it concluded, Yuhlia was driving when she, Christian, Andre and Jenser were killed.

The accident occurred at the intersection of W. Flagler St. and SW 79th Avenue– just over three miles from FIU. According to FHP’s Camacho, Yuhlia was completely clean of any drugs or alcohol, while Garcia was at fault.

(The accident occurred only 3.5 miles from FIU / Google Maps)

“All the efforts that law enforcement does on preaching, ‘Plan ahead, do the right thing, don’t drink and drive. Use a ride service or designated driver’…[the victims] actually listened, and they actually did that,” said Camacho, “and they still met this irresponsible individual doing the complete opposite of the right thing.”

Mohip recalled a night that his wife, Sandra, broke down because of the silence in their home that just a few months ago was normally filled with sounds of Christian playing PS4 with his friends. 

Medina said that he and his family still grieve regularly and one of Yuhlia’s cousins still can’t accept what happened. “The pain goes beyond cousins to grandparents,” he said, adding that some of the kids’ friends still come over to his house, and cry when they go to Yuhlia’s room. 

“You know, I try not to be selfish with my feelings. Alright, I lost my daughter and it hurts every second,” Medina said, “And the pain goes very far, but I know that [their friends] hurt and what they had was so sweet.”

Medina and Mohip said that everyone who knew them was grieving in some way. 

“They don’t share the same blood, but they’re family nonetheless,” said Medina. 

Medina said he heard from people he had never met about what his daughter had meant to them. 

Yuhlia’s FIU classmate Laura Garcia said, “Yuhlia was so sweet and she always had a smile on her face, she was always happy.”

Tamara Sosa worked with Yuhlia at Heartland, a Little Haiti restaurant. “I pray to make it home safely everyday and to spread as much joy as possible, as she did,” Sosa said. 

However, many people went beyond just words. One GoFundMe post requesting money for the Medina family has raised over $3,000. Another that aimed to cover the costs of all four victims’ funerals has raised  $41,620. 

Over 1,000 people have donated to the accounts, with donations ranging from $5 all the way to $2,500. 

However, the case has not concluded. Prosecutors charged Garcia with four counts of reckless vehicular homicide, four counts of DUI manslaughter, and two counts of DUI/serious bodily injury. Garcia is being tried as an adult and held without bond. 

“Our investigators did everything they could to have him treated as an adult,” said Camacho, “And the judge sided with our investigators.”

Friends built a memorial with flowers and photos at the corner where the accident took place. But when the judge decided Garcia would be held without bond, it was vandalized repeatedly. Today, the memorial remains.

The intersection where the accident occurred. (Liannys Polanco/SFMN)

Through the process of grieving, both Medina and Mohip are looking to make others aware of the consequences of intoxicated driving.

“I just wanna say that before you get behind the wheel of a car, really think about it,” Medina says. “It’s not how you feel at the moment. You probably think, ‘I’m a good driver, I feel fine.’ But sometimes you aren’t.” 

Medina is working to create a nonprofit organization, “Twenty-One Butterflies” to bring awareness to the impact of unsafe driving.

Mohip said he would like to change the name of either 79th Avenue or Flagler Street to honor the victims. 

“‘Four Angels’ Way, St., Ave., or something like that,” said Mohip. “I know it might be hard to change Flagler Street. because it’s a state road, but maybe 79th Ave.” 

In between all this, Medina has also been trying to obtain a copy of Yuhlia’s diploma. Unfortunately, Medina said that FIU was unable to release it to him because Yuhlia was one credit short. 

“[Garcia] just put an end to four amazing lives: four amazing kids going places,” said Medina, adding that he is devastated that he will never be able to attend Yuhlia’s wedding or hold his grandkids. 

Elise Gregg is a junior majoring in journalism with a minor in criminal justice. Upon graduation, she would like to pursue a career covering international crime, particularly human rights violations and religious oppression around the world.

Liannys Polanco is a senior FIU student pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Digital Communication/Broadcasting. She obtained an associates degree in mass communications/journalism at Miami Dade college back in 2015. In college, she was able to study abroad in Spain, France, Greece and Italy. The mix of those cultures made a huge impact on her life.