College Student Accused In Fatal Downtown Crash Blocks Away From Earlier Wreck He Caused

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Authorities are accusing a University of Florida student of felony negligent manslaughter after a fatal, high-speed crash on a downtown street just blocks away from an intersection where he also crashed his car two years ago in a careless driving wreck.

The fatal crash also happened one day after he had pleaded not guilty to an unrelated speeding ticket in Broward County.

Adam Mandel, 19, of Weston, Fla., was driving as fast as 80 mph on West University Avenue, where the speed limit is 35 mph, when he lost control on a Thursday evening in January and crashed his Lexus sports car into a guardrail and hit a utility pole, court records said. Mandel’s passenger was his 20-year-old girlfriend, Kassandra Guzman-Ramirez of Weston, who died from her injuries.

Mandel’s blood-alcohol level was .12 and he tested positive for marijuana, according to Alachua Circuit Court records filed overnight Wednesday. Gainesville police had been waiting months for the results of Mandel’s blood tests before prosecutors agreed to charge him. 

Police filed a sworn complaint accusing Mandel of felony negligent homicide involving a drunken driving accident. He faces up to six months in prison and a $1,000 fine, if convicted. State prosecutors have not formally charged Mandel yet, but the case was assigned to Circuit Judge Mark W. Moseley.

Mandel, whose parents live in Weston, was not immediately arrested. He hung up when a reporter called to ask him Thursday to discuss the new accusations against him. The university’s campus has been closed for weeks due to the pandemic, and students were encouraged to move home to their families. Mandel’s step-father, Stefano Itria of Weston, said in a brief interview Thursday he was not aware of the new accusations against him in the crash. He declined to discuss the wreck over the phone. 

Police said no arrest warrant would be issued for Mandel until the case was formally assigned to a state prosecutor in Alachua County. 

The fatal crash happened Jan. 9, one day after Mandel pleaded not guilty to a separate speeding ticket in Broward County Circuit Court, records showed. He was ticketed in December for driving 66 mph on a road with a 45 mph speed limit. He is facing a trial Friday in that case.

Witnesses in Gainesville told police Mandel was driving between 60 mph and 80 mph along the downtown street, and his sports car’s airbag module showed the car was traveling at least 75 mph before it crashed, court records said.

A witness, Fernando Arcia, 22, was a passenger in a friend’s car and saw Mandel’s car swerving toward them before Mandel hit the utility pole. When they checked on the crashed car, Mandel was staring blankly and his girlfriend appeared unconscious. 

Firefighters said they smelled alcohol on Mandel, and authorities found an open container of alcohol in the car, court records said. After he was advised of his rights, he acknowledged he had been drinking, police said. An officer at the scene said Mandel was sweating profusely and his pupils were dilated.

The accident happened just blocks from another intersection on West University Avenue where Mandel crashed his car in December 2018 and was charged with careless driving

County Judge Kristine Van Vorst ordered Mandel to write two letters about unsafe driving after visiting two roadside memorials dedicated to crash victims but assessed no points against his license. She also ordered him to complete four hours of a driver improvement course and pay $209 in fines and citations, according to court records.

Van Vorst has declined to discuss her handling of Mandel’s case after that crash. The court file was officially closed in July, just five months before Mandel’s fatal crash in January.

In his letters to the judge, Mandel described the impact on victims’ families and friends who “are changed forever once someone whom they know and love gets into an accident that takes their life.” He called the roadside memorials “a crucial reminder as to what can occur with the dangers of driving.” 

The lawyer who represented Mandel in the 2018 crash, Ted Hollander of Hialeah also has declined to discuss the case.

The victim in the January crash had been an artist since grade school and painted canvases of her family, her aunt, Kathy Savastano Vazquez, said in an interview in January with the Independent Florida Alligator. She described her niece as “just full of life, always, no matter what was going on with her.”

Mandel separately had a speeding citation in Broward County in May for driving 90 mph in a 65 mph zone, and paid $225 in fines and court costs, records showed. He was also ticketed in Osceola County in August 2017 for 79 mph in a 70 mph zone on an interstate, and months later in St. Lucie County in January 2018 for 86 mph in a 70 mph zone on a highway, according to court records.

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This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The reporter can be reached at stephanymatat@ufl.edu

About Stephany Matat

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