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LABELLE | Driver accused of killing 15-year-old has long criminal history

Court records show lengthy criminal history
Hector Santiago Jr.
Posted at 5:00 PM, Oct 23, 2023
and last updated 2023-10-23 18:26:06-04

LABELLE, Fla. — More than one month after a hit-and-run driver killed a 15-year-old boy in Hendry County, Florida Highway Patrol says they arrested the man they believe was behind the wheel.

Fox 4 looked into the suspect's background and discovered a long criminal history involving traffic crimes.

On September 14, troopers say 28-year-old Hector Santiago Jr. hit and killed Eduardo Escobedo on Case Road, south of LaBelle. Escobedo was on his bike, and troopers say Santiago Jr. took off after the crash. FHP arrested Santiago Jr. on Friday and said he was driving on a revoked license.

"The one thing we can't control is the person's free will," said Dr. Dave Thomas, a criminal studies professor at Florida Gulf Coast University.

Thomas believes some people tend to violate traffic crimes over and over again.

"When you get someone that is a habitual offender, rather than put them in jail for the extended period of time that they should get, it’s usually a slap on the wrist," Thomas explained. "Driving offenses are not necessarily taken as seriously as they should be."

Since 2018, Santiago Jr. has had 15 different charges against him between Lee and Hendry counties, according to court documents

In 2018, those charges ranged from reckless driving, eluding police and two traffic infractions.

Documents show a lengthy history in 2019. He was arrested for hit-and-run, careless driving, driving on a suspended license among other citations.

That same year, he was arrested in Fort Myers for resisting arrest, DUI and child neglect. However, we plead no contest to the resisting.

From 2020 to 2021, he had several probation violations. In 2022, he failed to register a motor vehicle and was driving on a suspended license, which is when documents show he was classified as a habitual offender.

"You would hope that jail is a deterrent and that people learn from their mistakes," Thomas said.

In some of the cases charges were dropped, he did not get jail time because of time served, he paid fines or got probation. In the case involving the death of the boy, FHP says he was driving on a revoked license.

"I take your driver's license, that doesn't keep me from getting behind the wheel of a car," Thomas said.

Even with no license, some jail time and arrests prior to the crash, Thomas say there is not much the justice system can do, unless pressure comes from the community.

Santiago Jr. is charged with vehicular homicide, hit-and-run involving death and driving on a revoked license involving a death.

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