AUBURNDALE - Walking to school because he missed his bus, a teenager was struck and killed on Old Dixie Highway in Auburndale on Wednesday morning, according to the Polk County Sheriff's Office.
Enrique Hernandez, 17, was walking north in the northbound lane near US 92 toward Tenoroc High School when he was hit by a 1999 Dodge Caravan traveling in the same direction around 6:40 a.m.
The driver, 50-year-old Prakesh Patel of Lakeland, tried to take evasive action and the van wound up in a ditch. Patel tried to render aid before emergency personnel arrived, deputies say.
Wednesday afternoon, the family broke down as they talked about the loss of their brother, cousin, and mentor.
"That's the main thing I'm going to miss, because he would always teach me new things. Anything I didn't know, he would show it to me the right way," said Edwin Villegas, Herandez's cousin.
The victim's sister, Anally Hernandez, learned on her way to school that someone matching her brother's description got hit, and she feared the worst.
"That's what started to get me worried. I tried to get my phone and call him," she said. "I just want to say rest in peace."
The Polk County School District confirmed Hernandez missed the bus, so he started to walk to Tenoroc High School.
Investigators say it was still dark and Old Dixie Highway has no sidewalks or streetlights.
"I heard the van slam on the brakes and I heard bam! I heard the impact. It sounded like he hit hard like he hit a pole. He hit hard. He hit really hard," said Jeremy Johnson who was outside of his house at the time.
The family now wants to know why the busy, narrow road -- less than a mile from Tenoroc -- has no room for kids to walk.
Others who live nearby say people walk on the road all the time.
"I don't think anybody should be walking on this, it's way too dangerous," said Peter Snedegar, who lives a few doors down from the accident.
The district said they never had to deal with it because they provide transportation.
In this case it appears an innocent boy just did not wake up in time.
Grief counselors will be on hand at Tenoroc High School to help kids cope with the loss.
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