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CBS 12 Investigates: How a $3 piece of tape could have saved an entire family

From left to right: Alejandro, Luis, and Melissa were killed in an accident in 2015, shown here with cousin Andres (far right).

A grieving husband who lost his wife and three kids is demanding action tonight after he says missing tape cost his loved ones their lives.

CBS 12 Investigates looked into how something as simple as a three dollar piece of tape was tied to this tragedy.

By law this reflective tape must be on just about every truck on the road, but as our investigation found, some trucks have it and some trucks are just too dirty to see.

That was the case for Arturo Varona.

Reporter: "what do you remember about your children?

Varona: Everything."

It's still difficult for Varona to talk about his three children.

"I want to be with my kids," he said.


Beautiful smiles shown in family photos, now memorialized with markers on the side of US-27 in Belle Glade in western rural Palm Beach County.

Fourteen-year-old Melissa Varona, 16-year-old Alejandro Varona, 17-year-old Luis Varona, and their mother Carolina Ortiz all lost forever on the morning of March 17, 2015.

Their vehicle crashed into the back of a disabled trailer and was then struck from behind.


"The four of them. I said my kids? She told me yes, and I can't remember anything more," Varona said.

CBS 12 Investigates obtained a copy of the Florida Highway Patrol's traffic homicide investigation.

According to the report, investigators found the trailer owned by Okeelanta Corporation was "not properly connected, and the reflective tape was dirty and peeling off."

"Could this family have been saved over a couple dollar piece of reflective tape?" Varona's lawyer Gabe Zambrano asked. "I believe that to be the case."

Verona filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the owner of the trailer and several other parties.

"This trailer should never have been on the road, but once it was on the road blocking the travel lanes of US-27, if it had adequate reflective tape, it might have been avoidable," Zambrano said.

Records showafter the accident, FHP issued multiple citations including one for "reflective tape is missing or worn off," something required on all trailers manufactured on or after December 1, 1993.

"I can see right now that David transport truck in front of us has all required tape on the back," said FHP Officer Trooper Eugene Wise.

This is what FHP's Bureau of Commercial Enforcement looks for when inspecting trucks.

"Tape should be on the bottom like it is and usually across like mid-height," Wise said.

But that may not always be the case.

CBS 12 Investigates parked near where Arturo lost his family and watched truck after truck pass by.

Of the 200 trucks we counted in our unscientific study, we found at least two dozen were either missing reflective tape - or had tape so covered in dirt, we couldn't see it.


That makes it nearly impossible for approaching drivers to see the danger in the dark, like Varona's family.

"We're talking about safety, not money," Verona cries.

Still grasping to comprehend life without his kids, this father hopes his loss will bring light to the importance of a three dollar peice of tape.

CBS 12 Investigates tried contacting Okeelanta, but they have not responded.

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