A Lyft driver picked up two friends after a night out in DC. Nobody made it home.


Long before the sun set over Washington on Tuesday, Mohamed Kamara had begun preparing for his late-night ride for Lyft.

He brushed the inside of his Honda with a broom, wiped the outside with a microfiber cloth, and banged the floor mats against the driveway. Then, according to his brother-in-law, the 42-year-old slipped his neighbor a $50 envelope to wish their daughter a happy first birthday.

A few hours later, while Kamara was taking his pre-shift nap, Olvin Torres Velasquez, 23, finished his 14-hour workday at an Arlington restaurant. He closed the register, ate ceviche, and told his colleague how excited he was to see the Honduras soccer team play that night. After his team lost, Torres Velasquez and his longtime friend and neighbor, 23-year-old Jonathan Cabrera Mendez, went to DC for a late dinner, according to Torres Velasquez’s relatives.

The friends met Kamara in the early hours of Wednesday morning when the young men called a Lyft home.

Then they were killed in a moment on the Rock Creek Parkway.

Authorities say an SUV driver who fled a traffic stop in a vehicle that city records said had amassed more than $12,000 in unpaid fines had plowed into his car. The two occupants of the SUV, a man and a woman, were taken to hospitals with injuries that were initially believed not to be life-threatening, although police said the woman’s injuries were later critical. As of Friday evening, police had not identified the driver or charged anyone in the accident.

Efforts to reach Mendez’s family were unsuccessful. Lyft did not respond to a request for comment Friday afternoon.

More than $12,000 in traffic fines have been issued in an SUV accident on Rock Creek Parkway

The fatal accident has sparked conversations across the city about whether DC needs to do more to keep common traffic offenders off the streets. It was initially unclear who was driving the SUV. Most of the $12,300 tickets for the vehicle were for speeding, according to the county’s Department of Motor Vehicles website. Minutes before the accident, U.S. Parking Police said that around 1:30 a.m. an officer tried to stop the driver of the SUV for a speeding violation that the officer saw.

“We as a family are outraged,” said Leslie Torres, Torres Velasquez Cousin. “This person owed a $12,000 speeding ticket. Why haven’t the authorities done anything?”

Councilor Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who is the new chair of the council’s transportation planning committee, said the city should have a “bigger conversation about enforcing road violence and speeding.” He previously said he will hold a hearing this spring focused on enforcement strategies to keep dangerous drivers off the roads.

In an interview with The Post on Friday afternoon, Allen said the district should consider lowering the threshold for reckless driving and increasing the possibility of a car being booted.

In DC, as in many other jurisdictions, police and other city officials can use a variety of tactics to target traffic offenders. When a police officer stops a driver and issues a ticket, the violations can result in driver’s license points and eventual loss of driver’s license. But when the violations are caught by a traffic camera — as in the case of the SUV — a vehicle can face fines that the car owner is responsible for paying, but the person or people driving those cars can keep their licenses.

If vehicles have two or more tickets that remain unpaid and uncontested after 30 days, the district can boot, tow, and impound them. But employees of the city’s Towing and Boating Authority must recognize the vehicle parked in a public square.

Allen said the city’s Towing and Boating Authority team was severely understaffed until last year, when the budget for that program was increased.

DC’s road safety strategy lacked funding, oversight and audit results

Family members of Kamara and Torres Velasquez expressed outrage that the SUV was allowed on the road and called for the driver to be held accountable and for laws in DC to be changed to prevent another speeding-related death.

“This shows that there is a shocking flaw in the system,” said Mohamed Fofana, Kamara’s 44-year-old brother-in-law. “I don’t want another family to go through what we’re going through. It didn’t have to be.”

Fofana said Kamara has lived with him and his family in Burtonsville, Maryland since he emigrated in 2017 from Sierra Leone, where he taught math and science in high school. Fofana described his brother-in-law as a “quiet and unassuming” man who was so slow and deliberate in everything he did that his family jokingly called him “sloth”. Fofana said Kamara was similarly careful when driving and always hated fast cars on the road.

Kamara loved playing soccer (his favorite sport) with his nephews, Fofana said, and even changed his Lyft schedule to be at home so he could accompany the boys to their bus stop in the mornings. He worked overtime this winter to save for his first trip to visit his wife and daughter in Sierra Leone.

Kamara’s 11-year-old nephew, who happily barged into Kamara’s room and asked him to take him to McDonald’s, was the one who found the police note saying his uncle had died, Fofana said.

Relatives and friends of Torres Velasquez said they were still seeking information and answers from police about what happened, why the driver was on the road in the first place and why police didn’t pursue him after he fled that night.

But most of all they said they mourn the young man.

His aunt Luz Marina Torres, also from Arlington, said Torres Velasquez was 17 when his mother sent him to Virginia over security concerns in her native country of Honduras. The eldest of four children, Torres Velasquez, helped his mother build a home in Honduras, Marina Torres said.

His mother, she said, was heartbroken, unable to speak, and awaiting her son’s return.

relatives and friends described Torres Velasquez as someone who worked hard, was humble and didn’t like trouble. He spent his free time with his family and friends and his main hobby was watching football matches. The rest of the time, relatives said, he worked to support his mother and siblings in Honduras.

“Olvin is a good guy, a charismatic person and a peacemaker,” said Danny Orozco, a family friend and his chef at the Arlington restaurant. “He always smiled and he always loved his family.”

Torres Velasquez met Cabrera Mendez after arriving in the United States from Honduras, Marina Torres said, and the two quickly became close friends. She said they went out late Tuesday because Torres Velasquez had the next day off, and they took a ride to be in charge.

Now, Leslie Torres said the family is grappling with the unexpected tragedy and cost of getting the body shipped to Honduras while waiting to hear about the investigation.

“If that person had that many tickets, it meant that person was a danger on the streets, and sooner or later that was going to happen,” Leslie Torres said, crying. “Why didn’t they act? We wonder why?”

Cate Brown contributed to this report.


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