‘We still need you’: Family devastated after 18-year-old father of 2-month-old dies in Bradford County log truck crash

An 18-year-old father was one of the victims in a double fatal crash Thursday morning in Bradford County.

Carlos Henrriquez Contreras left behind a 2-month-old daughter and an 18-year-old girlfriend, his family said.

The driver of the pickup truck that slammed into a log truck on US 301, a 23-year-old man, also died, according to the family. The driver of the log truck, a 47-year-old Middleburg man, was not hurt.

The crash is still under investigation.

His loved ones, speaking through a translator, said Henrriquez Contreras is irreplaceable and there just aren’t many words to describe their loss. They said he took care of his family, and his daughter was his world.

“He was like my son,” Reina Garcia, the mother of his girlfriend, told News4JAX on Friday through tears. “I loved him so much. I had so much pity for him. He was a kid that when he was 15, came to this country by himself. His mother would say ‘I let Carlos go.’ He didn’t want to continue going to study because he wanted to work to build her a house. Now, he won’t be able to do anything.”

Garcia and his girlfriend said their lives won’t be the same.

“Tomorrow, I have a birthday. This is the worst gift,” Garcia said. “He couldn’t give his daughter his last name because he came so young from Honduras. He couldn’t get the paperwork to give his name to his daughter. But his dream was to get the paperwork to give her his name.”

They said he was a calm person, a hard worker and a sincere man with so much love in him.

They vowed to take care of his daughter the best they could and said they’ll miss him every day.

“The only thing I would do is give him a hug and say, don’t leave, we still need you,” Garcia said.

News4JAX has reported on what are known as “underride” crashes in the past.

MORE: I-TEAM: Fatal underride crashes in US are ‘grossly underreported,’ attorney says. Here’s why

There have been several attempts to prevent these crashes with side impact guards or barriers on semi-trucks.

The News4JAX I-TEAM found in our area, there was a fatal underride crash in 2022 and another in 2023.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says in 2021, 488 people died in crashes involving the side of a tractor-trailer.

“Death by underride is a reality that affects all of us on the highway. And as long as these trailers are unguarded, they’re unsafe,” said Andy Young, a partner at Law Firm for Truck Safety.

Young, and others, have advocated for trailer manufacturers to put a side impact guard or barrier on the sides of their trailers.

“The truck industry and the trailer manufacturers have regulatory capture, and their lobbyists have a louder voice preventing these guards from being added on trailers. Why? Because of the extra weight that adds in, also the extra expense that it adds to the trailer itself,” Young said.

In 2022, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration passed a rule requiring rear impact guards on trailers strong enough to protect drivers in passenger cars. In 2023, they announced an advisory committee on underride protection and assigned research on side underride guards to understand their effectiveness and feasibility.

“Hopefully, that dialogue will turn into something meaningful, yet, we aren’t holding out great hope yet, because of some of the other actions that NHTSA has put out there such as the number of lives they believe would be saved, which is woefully inadequate, and way too low,” Young said. “So if we can save one life, or 170 to 200 plus lives a year, why aren’t we doing it?”

You can only wonder if these guards would’ve prevented these two deaths and a 2-month-old from growing up without a father.

“Of course, it would help,” Garcia said. “Imagine if that had something when he crashed. He wouldn’t have gone so under.”

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