Polk County family hopes trick-or-treating tragedy will keep others safe

LAKE WALES, Fla. (WFLA) – Halloween is a time for fun, superhero costumes and trick-or-treating.

But for a Polk County family, this time of year brings back painful memories.

“I hate Halloween now,” Angela Hoerl said.

In 2014, her 2-year-old grandson Dohntae Vasquez died when he was hit by a bus while trick-or-treating.

Dohntae was excited to show off his “superpowers.”

“He thought that was just the coolest thing ever. ‘I’m Captain America!’ he would say,” his mother Ashley Vasquez remembered.

His grandmother and a neighbor took the toddler out for his first time trick-or-treating.

But in an instant, their night of fun turned to horror.

“I dropped and I grabbed him and I pulled him to me. I just screamed, ‘my baby!'” Hoerl said.

His mother was working when she got the call and rushed to the scene.

“That was the longest drive of my life. When I got there I dropped. I was caught by one of those responding officers as I went down,” Vasquez said.

According to Hoerl, a family friend had lost his cell phone while crossing U.S. 27 In Lake Wales. He left Dohntae and his two children in a stroller in the median and ran to grab it, but Dohntae ran after him.

“Nobody saw the bus and suddenly my grandson was gone,” Hoerl sobbed.

They say it is a painful lesson they will never forget.

“The what-ifs are what kill you every day,” Vasquez said.

“Children are everywhere. Watch what you’re doing and hold their hand when you’re crossing the street. that’s my biggest regret. I should have held him,” Hoerl said.

The family hopes that their tragedy will help keep all of the future superheroes safe this year.

“Watch your children. Watch your babies, because you’re not promised tomorrow with them,” Vasquez said.

The driver of the bus was not speeding, and was not charged.

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