Gregory Hawkins is an ordinary guy whose quick thinking and heroic actions saved several lives after a recent car accident. Hawkins was driving on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard when he saw a clue Volkswagen, a black car, and two motorcycles go flying past him at high speeds. “I figured they were racing,” Hawkins said. “I didn’t think no more of it.” But moments later, the 49-year-old Tampa man was shocked when he saw the blue Volkswagen in a crumpled heap beside of a crushed and smoking mini-van.
The Volkswagen driver is now known to be 22-year-old Pablo Cortes. Investigators are still trying to determine what happened in the moments before the crash, but there is some video footage that has been helpful. A SnapChat video was recorded by a passenger with Cortes using a high speed filter to grab footage as the car raced down the road at around 115 miles per hour. Investigators say this video was time stamped at 9:38 PM and just six minutes later, more footage emerged of the crash scene.
When Hawkins spotted the accident, he immediately stopped and grabbed his camera phone. His recording shows the black car he had spotted earlier and two men who were looking at the wrecked Volkswagen and calling out to Pablo. One of the men is seen grabbing his head and shouting expletives. Then the men realize the wrecked mini-van is on fire and there are people trapped inside. That’s when the men in the black car sped away from the scene.
After capturing 43 seconds of video footage, Hawkins phone died and he realized the minivan was starting to burn. He jumped into action and helped deputies smash a window. “I looked in there, and there were kids,” he said. “I dove in the window, I got the little boy out first.”
As Hawkins worked to help free the passengers, the situation became increasingly tragic. The driver and mother, 39-year-old Marianela Murillo died on the scene along with two of her children, John Bernal, age 9, and Maria Bernal, age 10. Their sister, Lina Bernal, age 18, and 15-year-old niece Luisa Louisa were both critically injured and transported to Tampa General Hospital. The niece had been visiting the family on vacation from Colombia.
Pablo Cortes and his passenger both died in the crash. The accident also involved a Toyota whose 54-year-old driver, Carla Wyman, was seriously injured.
In the days following the accident, Hawkins has continued to check in with the family of the children he helped pull from the wreckage. He has even visited the hospital where the two teens are still in serious condition. Members of the Bernal and Murillo family call Hawkins their “angel” after he saved the two girls from the burning van. The family routinely talks to him by text. “They’re wonderful people and they’ve shown me a lot of love,” he said. “Everyone is showing one thing: universal love.”
A vigil was held for the victims of the accident and one local man said he hoped the community would learn something from this tragedy. “I don’t want to lose any more friends,” said Anthony Creelman. “I don’t want to see innocent people go anymore.”
Bill Winters, a personal injury attorney in Tampa, said he also hopes the community will use this as a learning opportunity. “In such a tragic time as this, we can’t afford to miss out on the lesson that is offered. Driving at such high speeds, whether street racing or making snapchat videos, is always a recipe for disaster.”