Earlier this month, friends and family of Miami resident Luka Balenovic were shocked to learn he'd died in a car crash on the night of August 6. But they were even more upset to learn that Gerardo Valdivia, the man behind the wheel of the car that hit Balenovic's motorcycle, shouldn't have been on the road in the first place.
Valdivia was driving on a suspended license. He was even charged for that crime in a traffic stop on May 19, along with driving a vehicle in an unsafe condition, driving without insurance, and not wearing a seatbelt. That came just three days after he'd been stopped for driving through a red light. But Valdivia blew off his scheduled court appearance for the suspended license charge. And to top it all off, despite being at fault for the crash that took Balenovic's life, Valdivia hasn't yet been charged with any crime. Police have confirmed that the investigation remains open, however.
We tried reaching out to the 31-year-old Valdivia to get his side of the story. But when we called his residence, his mother, Celia, picked up and told Riptide that Gerardo "isn't feeling well" and wouldn't be available to talk. When asked whether Gerardo had faced traffic troubles before, Mrs. Valdivia said, "He's gotten tickets like everyone else," but declined to elaborate.
The crash took place at 10:33 p.m. on August 6 at the intersection of NW 47th Ave. and NW Seventh St. According to a report filed by Detective Eddie Avila of the Miami Police Department, Balenovic was heading west on his motorcycle on Seventh St., while Valvidia was going the opposite direction. Both vehicles had the green light, but Valdivia tried to make a left turn on 47th Avenue, violating Balenovic's right of way. His car clipped the back wheel of Balenovic's motorcycle, causing him to lose control of his bike and hit the curb. Balenovic went flying off his bike into a chain link fence some 75 feet away. A fire rescue team was on the scene quickly, but Balenovic was declared dead at Jackson Memorial Hospital.
Valdivia, who suffered no injuries, was subsequently arrested as a result of the bench warrant for his court no-show on the suspended license charge. But he was released on bail shortly thereafter, and has not been charged in Balenovic's death. As the incident report states, the "investigation continues, pending the review of the red-light camera located at the intersection per the on-call state attorney."
Soon after the accident, Balenovic's friends went online to share memories and grief over his passing. The 25-year-old member of the Scoundrels Motorcycle Club was a Croatian immigrant, a graduate of Florida Gulf Coast University, and had just started a career in the Navy.
In a post on The Lost Highways, a motorcycle blog, Balenovic's friend Derek Malpass wrote, "He wanted everyone to experience the same joy that he got from riding, whether it was on a bike or walking down the street. What hurts the most is that Luka was a really safe rider ... All he wanted to do was ride his motorcycle, spend time with his girlfriend, Danielle, and play with his dog, Lolie. That was his life."
Another friend, Jason Autrey, added in a comment, "Luka was one of the few genuine loving people that this world needs more of. ... The world lost an amazing man Monday night, and the loss of Luka has been felt around the world."
Celia Valdivia, Gerardo's mother, expressed her condolences over Balenovic's death, saying, "We've prayed for his family." She also defended her son, however, claiming that Balenovic's death was an accident. "The motorcycle came out of nowhere," she says. "Gerardo didn't see it."
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This isn't Valdivia's first brush with the law. Aside from the moving violations that lead to his license being suspended, he was arrested in March 2000 for disorderly conduct, April 2001 for an alcohol violation, and March 2004 for consuming alcohol in public. Charges in all three were dropped or dismissed. He was also ticketed in March 2011 for driving through a stop sign. All told, Valdivia has six moving violations on his record, all picked up in the last 18 months.
As Balenovic's friends wait to see if Valdivia will be charged in the accident, they've begun to do what they can to keep his memory going. Malpass and friends set up a Paypal link to donate money to the Balenovic family. Other sites put up photo and video tributes to Balenovic. Through it all, they've tried to stay positive in wake of the loss.
"The ripple effect of all that is good that is yet to come from this tragedy will echo on for a long time," Malpass wrote. "The decisions and actions that others will surely take because of this will change lives forever."