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Memorial service held for 5-year-old girl killed in DUI crash in Polk County

Crash Photo 10-25-21.jpg
Posted at 8:00 PM, Oct 29, 2021

The community is gathering and remembering a five-year-old girl killed by a drunk driver in Polk County.

“How Nathalie lost her life, it was an irresponsible act,” said Pastor Azael Pittí of Plant City Spanish Seventh-Day Adventist Church.

Members of Plant City Spanish Seventh-Day Adventist Church are making preparations for the memorial service of five-year-old Nathalie Mendez tonight.

Mendez

“We were supposed to be preparing a camping trip with our kids and youth people. Instead of having a camping now we are preparing a memorial service,” Pittí said.

Pittí tells ABC Action News the outgoing little girl was very loved by her church family.

“Extroverted girl, she loved to smile, play around. She loved when she had to do some crafts,” he said.

Nathalie and her mother Johana Mendez, had recently joined his church. On Saturday morning, Nathalie sang in front of the congregation for the very first time. Nathalie’s life was tragically cut short that night when her mother’s car was hit from behind at 8:30 pm, on State Road 60 in Mulberry.

Deputies said Ernesto Lopez Morales, 32, was drunk and speeding, with no headlights on, and is in the country illegally. He fled the scene of the crash.

Johana Mendez

“See somebody full of life in the morning, and at night is dead. That’s something very shocking to us. That is something that there is no way to understand,” Pittí said.

Morales was taken to the Polk County Jail and has a $22,500 bond. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement initiated a hold on him.

Nathalie’s mother was released from the hospital Thursday. The church has set up a GoFundMe to help her, as she heals physically and most importantly emotionally.

“For a mom to have this kind of loss is something really hard. I think within weeks she’s going to be better but her emotional health is probably going to take more time,” said Pittí.

Nathalie's memorial service will be on Oct. 29 at 7 pm at Hopewell Funeral Home, located at 6005 S. County Rd. 39 in Plant City.