INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — A man arrested in connection with a fatal hit-and-run crash that happened earlier this month initially told deputies he thought he “hit a hog,” but later admitted he struck a person walking in the road, authorities said.
Florida Highway Patrol troopers announced late Monday that Francisco Magana Cendejas, 18, of Vero Beach, was charged with leaving the scene of an accident involving death. He is being held at the Indian River County Jail without bond.
Two of Cendejas’ fellow employees, including one who was a passenger in Cendejas’ vehicle at the time of the crash, gave detectives crucial information that helped lead to the man’s arrest, according to an arrest report.
Deputies determined Cendejas did not call 911 to report the crash and fled the scene because “he was scared,” authorities said.
The fatal crash that claimed the life of 19-year-old Desmond Johnson happened about 10:55 p.m. March 1 along 58th Avenue, south of 37th Street. The body of Johnson, who was reported missing after the crash, was found March 9 in the bushes on the west side of the road, troopers said.
Key witness information
Deputies interviewed Cendejas’ fellow employees, who both gave key information that helped detectives and troopers track him down.
On Monday, Indian River County detectives spoke with one of the workers, who said he left work on March 1 at John’s Island and that Cendejas and another worker usually follow him until they head north of State Road 60.
Cendejas and another employee followed the man in Cendejas’ red pick up truck traveling west on State Road 60. Cendejas turned north when he reached 58th Avenue while the man continued driving west, authorities said.
Moments later, Cendejas called the man and told him he “hit a hog on 58th Avenue” and “wanted help cleaning up debris,” an arrest report states. The man told deputies he drove to the 3500 block of 58th Avenue and saw the two employees walking between the wood line and the roadway.
He noticed the pick up was missing the driver’s side wheel well and the front bumper, authorities said. The man helped Cendejas pick up the debris and walked the area, but could not see anything that Cendejas might have hit, an arrest report states. All three workers left the area.
The man told deputies he later saw a news article about a body being found in the same area of the crash site and said he asked Cendejas about it.
Cendejas’ demeanor “changed right away” and he was very quiet and upset, an arrest report states. The man said he told Cendejas everyday since last Friday to go to the Sheriff’s Office.
Deputies also spoke with two additional witnesses who saw the workers picking up the vehicle parts at the crash site. The witnesses said the entire front left panel was “torn away” from the vehicle, authorities said.
FHP troopers found parts of the pick up, along with Johnson’s skateboard, at the crash site near where Johnson’s body was lying. The body of Johnson was in a “state of decay,” indicating that he had been left there for some time, an arrest report states.
Troopers secured Cendejas’ pickup truck after being told it was at an auto body shop in south county. The vehicle had damage consistent with that of striking a person, authorities said.
Troopers sent the pickup to the Sheriff’s Office crime lab.
On Monday, detectives also spoke with the passenger in Cendejas’ vehicle, who said he and Cendejas left about 10:50 p.m. March 1 from John’s Island County Club. The passenger said he and Cendejas’ were traveling on 58th Avenue when the truck struck something, but continued going northbound.
The passenger said Cendejas turned around, returned to the crash site and called the third employee.
Interview with Cendejas
Deputies detained Cendejas from Sebastian River High School and spoke with him. Initially, Cendejas told deputies he believed he hit a hog, but then admitted he knew he struck a person, an arrest report states.
Cendejas said he went back and “did not see the person when he returned and searched the scene,” authorities said. Cendejas was arrested and taken to the county jail for booking.
No further information was available.