Karenine Saint Louis could have died last summer crossing the street, or on a ride to the mall with her mother. What makes the story of her death tragic is the sum of its parts.
Arranging a clandestine rendezvous with a boy she’d just met and who didn’t even know her last name. Sneaking out of bed in the dead of night and propping pillows to make it look like she was asleep. And climbing into a truck with a driver who shouldn’t have been behind the wheel.
An 81-page final crash report obtained this week by The Palm Beach Post contains the standard skid-mark measurements and toxicology results. But it also offers insights on how a young girl did the kinds of reckless acts that millions of adults did as teenagers but lived to tell. Karenine, a 13-year-old honor student who wanted to be a psychiatrist, did not.
Just after 8 a.m. July 9, deputies knocked on Josie Saint Fleur’s door.
She told them no, they must be mistaken. Her daughter Karenine was asleep in bed.
But Karenine wasn’t there. Just pillows and bedsheets.
“Our heart is breaking in two,” her aunt, Marie Wislaine Bontemps, said the next day. She said of Josie: “She’s been crying all day. She lost her voice.”
Oswaldo Aguirre, Jimmy’s dad, told The Post on Thursday that his heart is broken as well. As is his son’s.
“I cannot sleep,” he said. “We would ask forgiveness.”
‘The sweetest girl’
Karenine’s family came from Haiti in 2001. Karenine was born in Boynton Beach. The girl had attended Trinity Christian Academy west of Lake Worth and was about to start her third year at the Somerset Canyons charter school in suburban Boynton Beach as an eighth-grader. She was a cheerleader and aspired to be a psychiatrist.
“She was the sweetest girl in the family,” her aunt said. “Outgoing. Caring. Willing to help anybody.”
But the mother would tell investigators Karenine “had recently started hanging out with some people that her mother disapproved of” and the mother had even considered moving.
Jimmy Aguirre was born in Delray Beach in 1999 and attended Carver Middle School and Atlantic High.
On March 19, 2010, Jimmy, then 10, was injured in a rear-end car crash. His family filed a lawsuit, saying he sprained his neck and broke his elbow. In a February 2016 settlement statement, Jimmy’s lawyers said he was in pain for several years but was able to play wide receiver for his junior varsity football team.
The case was settled for $25,000; after lawyers’ fees and other disbursements, Jimmy’s portion was about $5,600, court records show. At the time, court documents indicated Jimmy’s father, Oswaldo, owned a tile business and his mother, Melissa, worked in a bakery. Melissa Aguirre filed for federal bankruptcy protection in July 2016.
When Jimmy’s family moved to Greenacres, he would have transferred to John I. Leonard High School, but the crash report says he was attending the South Intensive School, a county alternative school in Lake Worth for kids who run into problems with academics, discipline or other issues.
Jimmy would tell investigators he met Karenine on the internet. He said their in-person encounter that rainy night in July was both their first and their last.
“Mr. Aguirre told me he knew her only as Karnine (sic) and that she was 13 years old,” sheriff’s investigator Denise Hyde wrote. “He said they were only friends.”
She said Karenine’s mother “had no idea who Mr. Aguirre was.”
Josie Saint Fleur told deputies she’d been out of work for four months and recently had picked up two midnight shifts a week from a friend. She said she last saw her daughter at about 10 p.m.. She later learned Karenine had sent her younger sister, Rodjanie, to sleep with their grandmother. It was the night before Rodjanie’s seventh birthday.
“Sometime around midnight, or later, Ms. Saint Louis stuffed pillows and clothing under her bedspread to make it look like she was sleeping to anyone who may have looked in the room,” Deputy Hyde wrote. “Ms. Saint Louis then snuck out of the house.”
Lawyers for Karenine’s parents have said Jimmy used his parents’ Lyft account to order Karenine’s ride from her home, but when it came time for her to return, the balance was too low. The parents told Deputy Hyde that Karenine texted a couple of underage relatives, asking for $10 for the Lyft ride home, or for someone to come get her, but none could help. The investigator said the parents never provided those texts.
Lawyers have said Karenine told Jimmy she had to get home before her mother did. He told her he couldn’t drive her; he had only a learner’s permit, which requires someone who’s at least 21 years old to be in the front seat.
In the end, Jimmy and Karenine got into the 2002 Ford F-150 owned by Jimmy’s dad. Oswaldo Aguirre told The Post he and his wife were asleep that night and didn’t know Jimmy had taken the pickup.
A short time later, Jimmy was heading south on Jog Road, south of Lantana Road. He has said he was going between 40 and 50 mph in the 45 mph zone.
The report said Jimmy told investigators that Karenine shouted “Watch out!” or something close to it, and said something about a car being too close. He said he saw a small white car behind him and to his right. He said he tried to move left “in case the car came too close” and struck the curb, losing control.
The truck struck one tree in the median, shearing it off at the trunk “with such violent force” that the treetop tore off. The pickup continued 20 more feet, slightly rotating, and struck the second tree, which “brought the vehicle to a sudden and abrupt stop.” The passenger door wrapped around the tree, partially uprooting it and slamming Karenine’s head and body into it.
Examinations showed the safety belts had not been extended for either person. Deputy Hyde also wrote the truck had two bald rear tires, which she said contributed to the crash.
Leta Murray was northbound on Jog “when she heard the impact and saw debris come into the northbound lanes ahead of her,” the report said. She saw Jimmy “stumble” out of the truck and say his “girlfriend” was trapped inside. She called 911. She said Jimmy tried to push away the tree that had caved in the passenger door and struck Karenine.
Murray told The Post this week that she had been returning home from her work at Bethesda Hospital East when “all the debris came into my lane. I had to drive around all the debris to stop.” She said she reached into the truck. Karenine “was on her back and she was looking up and her eyes were fixed and dilated. I felt for a pulse in her neck and there was no pulse.”
She learned later who the girl was, and found that her daughter was familiar with her, “so it was a learning lesson for my own child.”
The report said paramedics treated Jimmy for minor injuries but he refused transport to a hospital. Karenine was taken to Delray Medical Center. She arrived at 6:02 a.m. Thirteen minutes later, she was declared the county’s 47th traffic fatality of 2017. An autopsy would show she died of blunt force injuries to the head.
At about 7:45 a.m., Deputy Hyde, who’d come to the crash site, called Delray Medical. The hospital confirmed the girl, as yet unidentified, was dead but “insisted that the person they had was at least in their early to mid-20s and could not possibly be 13 years old.” Relatives later would say Karenine, at 5 feet 7 inches and 152 pounds, “was very developed for her age.”
At about 8:10 a.m. Hyde and a colleague came to Josie Saint Fleur’s home. She said her daughter was in bed.
“She was asked to go check,” the report said. “When Ms. Saint Fleur returned to the door she was hysterical.”
As relatives poured into Karenine’s home, a deputy back at the hospital snapped photos of Karenine and forwarded them to his colleague. Hyde showed it to relatives, including the girl’s mother.
Yes. It was Karenine.
’ … led to the untimely death … ‘
In the days that followed, Hyde met with Josie Saint Fleur and the girl’s father, Antoine Saint Louis, who’d flown in from Haiti. They said they believed Jimmy had deliberately swerved “and had ‘murdered’ Ms. Saint Louis.” They also said they believed Jimmy had “kidnapped” Karenine, even though they agreed she’d concocted her scheme to sneak out.
The parents hired lawyers.
The lawyers said they had access to Facebook posts showing Jimmy had provided marijuana to Karenine in the hours before the crash. But the lawyers never provided those postings, and toxicology tests showed neither alcohol nor drugs in Karenine’s system. The report doesn’t say if Jimmy was subjected to toxicology tests but said investigators were satisfied alcohol and drugs were not involved.
The lawyers would file a lawsuit July 17, naming Jimmy and his parents but also Lyft and its driver. They would argue Karenine never would have died had the driver not picked her up in violation of a company policy barring transport of minors traveling alone.
This month, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Judge Donald W. Hafele dismissed the counts against Lyft and its driver, saying they could not be responsible for something that happened hours later. The parents’ lawyers have said they plan to appeal.
They have not commented on the contents of the crash report.
The judge already had dropped Jimmy’s parents as defendants. With Lyft and its driver now out, barring a successful appeal, the case against the remaining defendant — Jimmy Aguirre — is a limited one, considering his finances. His mother hand-wrote the court in August to say, in Spanish, that she didn’t have a lawyer and couldn’t afford one, and “if the court could provide me with one it would be very helpful.”
Oswaldo Aguirre said his family is a humble one, financially, and if it had to pay a large judgment, “I don’t know what we would do.”
On Jan. 2, the same day the judge tossed the lawsuit counts against Lyft, Deputy Hyde signed off on her investigation and issued the four traffic citations against Jimmy, now 18: speeding, operating an unsafe vehicle, not wearing a safety belt and not ensuring his passenger wore hers. The state already had suspended Jimmy’s learner’s permit.
The traffic tickets carry combined fines of up to $514, plus court costs. Authorities said last year they would not file criminal charges.
“The evidence in this case supported the fact that this crash was the direct results (sic) of the actions, or inactions, of Jimmy Aguirre,” Hyde wrote, “and led to the untimely death of Karenine St. Louis.”
Oswaldo Aguirre said his son still is in school and works some construction projects with him. He said he believes that when his son got in that truck, the boy was doing a good deed for a girl in a jam.
He said Jimmy was depressed for months and is just now starting to recover, but still has nightmares and crying fits.
“We try not to talk to him about it,” Oswaldo said in Spanish. “We feel very sad, especially for the girl’s family, but also for Jimmy and for everything that happened.
“There’s nothing good that came out of this. But what can you do?”
Staff writer Jorge Milian and staff researcher Melanie Mena contributed to this story.