The driver of a front loader was not at fault in the Sept. 11 crash that killed a 9-year-old boy near the Atlantic Crossings commercial development, the report finds.
DELRAY BEACH — A moment's distraction by a 9-year-old boy, riding his new birthday bike with his earphones on, caused the September collision that took the child's life, a Delray Beach police investigation has concluded.
The report on the Sept. 11, 2019, death of Jahlani X-Zavia Ware found no fault on the part of the driver of the nearly 16-ton construction vehicle that ran over the boy as it worked on the $300 million downtown Atlantic Crossings development.
Lawyers for the boy’s father said Wednesday they are disputing the report’s findings and have not ruled out a lawsuit.
The driver, Robert L. Shapiro, 29, who worked for the Lantana-based construction firm Johnson-Davis, was not injured in the incident, the report said.
According to the report, signed off Feb. 17 and obtained this week, at about 4:30 p.m. Sept. 11, Jahlani rode from his apartment at 2315 Southwest Eighth Court to the city's Veterans Park, where he regularly used the playground.
At the 700 block of Northeast First Street, one block east of Federal Highway, Shapiro was driving a 31,680-pound front loader, a construction vehicle used to move dirt, asphalt and demolition debris. He said he was carrying new pipes for a water main.
Shapiro said he had seen Jahlani, a student at Spady Elementary School, about 40 minutes earlier as he moved items in a parking lot-storage area.
He said that as he left that area, he stopped at a stop sign, then moved up to see around a 7-foot-high hedge. He said he saw no one and moved onto Northeast First Street.
"I looked both ways, and as I was making the right-hand turn, I was looking again," Shapiro later would tell investigators. "It's when it happened."
As the front loader turned onto First Street, Jahlani, who was on or near the sidewalk, slammed on the bike's brakes, leaving a 5-foot skid mark, but struck the right side of the loader and fell.
One of the loader's giant wheels then rolled over the 5-foot-tall, 100-pound boy, the report said.
The driver said he heard a "bump" in the rear of the loader and stopped. He said he would have heard a scream.
He said it's likely the boy's bicycle caught on a step on the side of the loader, causing him to fall.
Jahlani was pronounced dead at the crash site.
Jahlani's mother came there, and police later went to the family home and met with both parents, who were with relatives and pastors.
The parents told investigators Jahlani had received the bike as an early birthday present — he was set to turn 10 in a month — and wasn't familiar with it.
Shapiro, had worked for the company for about two years and been on the Delray Beach job for about a month, driving down from Sebastian, north of Vero Beach.
At the site, Shapiro waited with co-workers until his wife arrived to drive him home. The report said an investigator got into the seat of the loader and determined the driver would have not been able to see the boy.
"It is possible Ware did not hear the front-wheel loader as he may have had both earbuds in," the report said.
It concluded that Ware illegally rode into the path of the loader and that was "the main contributing factor."
Bob Hopler, a Johnson-Davis vice president, did not comment Wednesday. At the time of the crash, he said in a statement that "the Johnson-Davis family is heartbroken." Shapiro did not return a call Wednesday.
Lee Cohen, a Delray Beach lawyer representing Ware's father, Keith Ware of Boynton Beach, said lawyers have retained their own investigators for what he called an "incredibly preventable" incident.
"There are a lot of things that were inconsistent with the findings of the homicide report," Cohen said. "Why was there not a flagman stopping traffic? And why was the child allowed to be driving down the road when they knew there was heavy machinery?"
"This young kid was just riding a bicycle, and the view of the operator was impaired," attorney Lorenzo Williams, representing Ware's mother, Tanyian Mazias, said Wednesday from Stuart.
He said trees and the front-loader's bucket blocked the driver's view and that he should have had a spotter.
Jahlani was "a very, very sweet kid. Very understanding. Very loving," his cousin, Jada Ware, said Sept. 12, the day after the incident.
She said Jahlani enjoyed playing football, and he and his dad often came to West Palm Beach on weekends for dinner. She said he loved to play with Cookie, Jada’s 2-year-old Chihuahua mix.
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