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Man accused of killing UF student in a hit-and-run expected to change plea Monday

Six days after University of Florida student Margaret “Maggie” Paxton was killed in a high-profile hit-and-run accident, Gainesville police traced the ownership of the car suspected of striking her to a man who worked at a local auto repair shop.

Paxton, 18, of Jacksonville, was hit by a blue BMW on Dec. 9, 2020, as she was crossing West University Avenue at Gale Lemerand Drive. The driver drove away without stopping to offer her aid, according to police reports. Only its discarded fog light parts remained.

According to the reports, a neighboring business owner allowed detectives to peer over a fence and into the Best Motor Works & Sports property on Southeast 10th Avenue. They spotted the BMW. Its hood appeared crumbled on the right side. Its bleached blue paint matched images from license plate readers the police used to find it, according to the reports.

That same day, investigators asked the car’s owner, Miguel Figueroa – the father of Joshua Figueroa – to examine the BMW. The father declined, according to police reports.

Two days later, they returned with a search warrant. Blood was splattered along the passenger side. Its missing parts aligned with those found that night on University Avenue. Inside was stashed paperwork belonging to Joshua Figueroa, according to police reports.

On Monday, Joshua Figueroa, 31, who was arrested nearly seven months later, on July 1, 2021, on a first-degree felony charge related to failing to stop for a crash involving a death, is expected to change his plea in front of Judge Phillip Pena in Eighth District Circuit Court.

Since his arrest, Figueroa, who lives on Southwest 14th Drive, about four miles from campus, has been free on $20,000 bond and ordered not to drive. He had been working at a local restaurant for two months at the time of the accident.

Paxton’s family and friends are expected to offer victim’s impact statements at the hearing.

“She was in a crosswalk doing everything right,” her lifelong friend, Kylee Borg, 19, a UF public relations student, told WUFT News this week.

Referring to Lisa Paxton, Borg added, “I know Maggie’s mom and I both are having a tough time trying to put into words the anger we feel towards him.”

Others wrote letters to the judge, as requested by Maggie’s mother, Lisa Paxton.

An attempt to reach Figueroa’s attorney, Robert Rush, for comment was unsuccessful.

The story of the lengthy police investigation of the case – including unexplained delays and the role of citywide technology that few understand – has never been told. This account is based on interviews and a review of months' worth of court documents.

Automated license plate readers represent a new technology used by the Gainesville and UF police departments for a variety of reasons associated with crime fighting and traffic safety.

Those in use along University Avenue identified the dark sedan suspected of killing Maggie Paxton, with images tracking it 51 times there between Nov. 20, 2020, and the night of the accident, according to police records. Afterward, the readers only detected it once.

Investigators used a Florida license plate trace to lead them to Miguel Figueroa and Best Motor Works and Sports, where the BMW was encircled by other cars, according to arrest records.

On Feb. 5, 2021, after it took about a month for police to get them from a phone company, Joshua Figueroa’s phone records showed he was in the area of the crash as it happened, according to court documents and an interview with GPD spokesman Graham Glover.

When later that month, Paxton’s parents, James and Lisa Paxton, filed a civil lawsuit against Miguel Figueroa, because he was the registered owner of the BMW that struck her, police were still trying to identify who was behind the wheel that night.

The Paxtons settled their civil case against Miguel Figueroa on Jan. 7. Their civil attorney, William Mulligan, said the terms of the settlement were confidential.

In June 2021, police interviewed Marc Painton, a friend of Joshua Figueroa, who according to police reports, called Painton 15 minutes after the crash. In the interview, Painton said Figueroa told him that he had hit “something or someone” with his car that night.

Painton said he told Figueroa to meet him at Lillian’s Music Store, a downtown bar. Painton said his friend drank alcohol and appeared upset. When they soon inspected the car together, Painton said “he did not want to know anything else about the crash,” the reports show.

Painton and two other individuals are the only civilian witnesses listed in court files. The other 15 witnesses are police. Painton did not respond to cell phone calls for an interview.

Asked why it took the Painton interview happened six months after Paxton’s death and four months after police obtained records that Figueroa had called Painton, Glover said in an email that it took place as soon as investigators determined it was appropriate.

“The timeline for specific interviews is determined on the collection of specific evidence, which itself is processed by not only GPD, but by other agencies,” Glover wrote.

The felony followed eight previous driving charges for Figueroa, including careless driving and a crash on June 24, 2012, court records show. No injuries were reported in that incident.

“For Josh to change his plea ... and take some actual responsibility for the horror that he caused this family – I’m sure, it's never going to bring back Maggie to Mr. and Mrs. Paxton – but at least they'll hear some sort of accountability,” said Mulligan, the family’s civil attorney.

Borg, Paxton’s childhood friend, said she’s lost count with respect to the number of drafts she’s prepared for her remarks she will give in court Monday.

She said she and Paxton were born in the same Jacksonville Beach hospital on the same day, Aug. 25, 2002. They attended preschool, elementary school, high school and UF together. Each birthday they celebrated together. And while Borg dreaded the birthday song, cringing as people sang, during their Sweet 16 party, Paxton swung her arms and hollered with everyone.

Borg said she is hopeful that Figueroa accepts responsibility and receives a harsh sentence for causing the death of someone who would otherwise be college sophomore and full of promise.

“So seeing me standing up there,” speaking of her loss, she said, “I hope it’s a representation of the life that they took. A young, young, beautiful life that had so much ahead of her.”

Katie is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.