“At no time did it cross my mind that the girl could be driving a car,” said Stephano Jese Rivas, 30, Josseline’s uncle, in Spanish. “She was a 12-year-old student without experience driving. It’s so sad.”
The girl was driving at about 2:08 a.m. on Broken Land Parkway, south of Cradlerock Way in the Columbia, Md., area with her stepfather Mario Arturo Artiga, 36, in the passenger seat of a Toyota Corolla, according to Howard County police and her family.
The car went off the road “for an unknown reason” and crashed into a tree, police said in a statement.
Josseline was pronounced dead at the scene. Her stepfather was taken to the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center in critical condition, according to police.
Her uncle said the family is still trying to understand how and why his niece was driving the car.
Girl, 12, killed in crash while driving, police say
Rivas said police told them the car lost control. Arturo Artiga lived in an apartment with Josseline and her mother along with another uncle in Columbia, according to Rivas.
The girl and her mother moved from El Salvador several years ago, Rivas said. Josseline was very close to her younger cousins and they played together often, her uncle said.
“Almost every weekend we would gather together as a family. My father raised us to stay together,” Rivas said. “My little niece really loved my daughters. She was very fun, she would play with my daughters. She was a funny, cheerful and an intelligent person.”
The tragedy took the family both in the United States and El Salvador by surprise.
“We are immigrants and we weren’t prepared for this kind of pain. Our family here and our family there is suffering after hearing the tragic news,” Rivas said.
Authorities are investigating whether drugs or alcohol were involved in the case, police said. They believe speed was a factor in the fatal crash.
As of Tuesday evening, police have not filed charges in the case, Howard County Police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn said in an email. An investigation is ongoing.
Josseline’s mother, who has high blood pressure, was unable to speak on the phone, Rivas said.
“There is little that she can say,” said Rivas. “She’s been passing out throughout the day after hearing about the tragedy.”
Grecia Maria Rivas told Telemundo 44 on Monday that she was sleeping when she noticed her daughter, who was sleeping by her side, was gone along with her car keys. Rivas told the station she doesn’t know where they were going and why.
As they wait for the autopsy results, the family is financially struggling to cover the funeral expenses that they estimate will be about $20,000.
“We don’t have the money to give our niece a decent burial,” Rivas said.
Alice Crites contributed to this report.