She smiled all the time, was about to enter the eighth grade and wanted to be a veterinarian. And on Tuesday evening in Montgomery County, Deborah Reyes Casasola did about the last thing that anyone would consider dangerous: She tagged along with her parents to watch a soccer practice.
Deborah took a seat near a tree with her mother and her dog. Her dad went to go coach.
A short time later, from the field, Wilbert Reyes saw it happen.
Behind his daughter and wife, a small SUV was suddenly coming down a small slope. It struck Deborah.
“I saw her body rolling under the car,” Reyes said Wednesday.
He ran to his daughter and held her in his arms.
“She briefly looked at me, and then she closed her eyes,” he said. “That is when I knew. That is when I knew she was gone.”
Montgomery crash investigators on Wednesday were still trying to figure out precisely what happened, but were having difficulty because the three occupants of the SUV — all adults — had refused to specifically explain who was driving the car and what exactly happened.
What investigators have established is that at some point, in a parking lot outside Eastern Middle School, a 2008 Ford Escape jumped a curb, ran over a sign, hit a tree and struck Deborah and a woman who was not related to her. The woman received minor injuries. Deborah died a short time later at a hospital.
Investigators think one of the car occupants was trying to teach another how to drive. “I believe this was an amateur and inappropriate driving lesson,” said Capt. Tom Didone, director of the Montgomery Police Department’s traffic division.
In Maryland, drivers with learner’s permits can travel on roadways if the front passenger seat is occupied by someone who has had a valid license for three years and is at least 21 years old, Didone said. But people teaching others to drive should use common sense, Didone said. They should take them to barren parking lots before letting them get behind the wheel or, ideally, to a professional drivers academy that has cars equipped with dual operations systems.
“You shouldn’t go to a populated school area to teach someone to drive,” Didone said.
Deborah’s family and neighbors spoke tearfully Wednesday about the 13-year-old, who was described by many as studious and cheerful.
Her father recalled an incident that underscored her affection for animals. It happened after she’d balked at cleaning her cat’s litter box, and her dad told her to take the cat outside. She did, and it was raining. She rushed back in the house with the cat.
“I can’t, I can’t. I promise to clean up forever,” she told her dad.
Deborah, whose family emigrated from Guatemala, was born in the United States and had nine siblings, family members said.
Several relatives said Deborah loved soccer, but at first, the game didn’t come easily to her. So she practiced with her dad — enough to become good enough to love the game so much she’d play anywhere on the field.
“If the coach told her to play a position, she would play it,” said Ivan Escobar, a close friend of Deborah’s father.
This summer, Deborah had played soccer constantly with her siblings on a lawn in front of their brick apartment building, about three miles east of downtown Silver Spring. Several residents said they often worry about vehicles speeding by as children play. Fatima Aguilar, a neighbor and casual acquaintance with the girl’s mother, recalled seeing Deborah having fun on the lawn hours before the accident.
“The danger here is cars,” Aguilar said, shaking her head. Aguilar recalled a recent accident in the neighborhood that resulted in both a truck and a sedan on a curb. “If the kids were playing there, they would have been hit,” she said.
She and other neighbors were devastated by the news. Leticia Garcia, a neighbor, conjured up an image of the teen as she spoke about her in an interview. “Look how pretty she was,” Garcia said aloud, recalling a scene the day before the accident, when Deborah and her younger sister were outside laughing and playing.
On Tuesday morning, with the summer heat swooping in, Deborah was hesitant to venture out with her mother to sell stuffed peppers.
She stayed in the family’s apartment with her dog — fun she recorded with a picture.
But by Tuesday evening she ventured out to the soccer field with her parents. Whoever was driving the Escape lost control, creating a chaotic scene moments later.
Deborah’s mother, a seamstress, was put on sedatives afterward.
“She still doesn’t believe what happened,” said Deborah’s sister, Rosario.
On Wednesday, Deborah’s father, grandfather and several friends returned to the soccer field to pay their respects.
Her father, a construction worker, had squeezed into one of his daughter’s red soccer jerseys. The name on the back, above the number 44, read: Deborah.
He walked to the scene of the crash and knelt down with a bouquet of white flowers.
“My God,” he cried out in Spanish. “What I wouldn’t give to get her back.”
Staff writer Donna St. George contributed to this report.