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Thursday, October 28, 2021
METRO  |  CRIME

Man arrested in hit-and-run case resulting in death of UF student

The Gainesville Police Department arrested Joshua Alexander Figueroa in the hit-and-run case that killed Maggie Paxton

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The Gainesville Police Department arrested a man Thursday in connection with a hit-and-run car crash that killed UF student Maggie Paxton in December.

Joshua Alexander Figueroa, 31, was charged with failing to stop for a crash involving a death. 

GPD spokesperson Graham Glover said Figueroa is currently being held at the Alachua County Jail after being charged with a felony. The state attorney’s office will move forward with the case evidence and prosecute him. 

On Dec. 9, Paxton was crossing the intersection at West University Avenue and Gale Lemerand Drive near Ben Hill Griffin Stadium when she was struck by a car. The 18-year-old UF natural resource conservation freshman died at the scene of the crash.

The driver fled the scene of the crash without stopping to give aid or provide personal or vehicle information, which is required by Florida law, according to a GPD press release.

GPD interviewed eyewitnesses, obtained information from automated license plate readers, and executed search warrants for the location of the vehicle and Figueroa’s cell phone, which identified him as the driver.  

Figueroa was arrested Thursday after he came in for questioning, Glover said. It’s unclear whether he came willingly or if GPD called him in. The investigation has been ongoing for more than seven months. 

William Mulligan, the lawyer for the Paxton’s and the family of Sophia Lambert, said it’s been “all hands on deck” to figure out who the driver was. 

The car was owned by the suspect’s father, Miguel Figueroa, but Mulligan said it was more likely Joshua was driving.

The next step is to add Joshua to the civil lawsuit filed by the Paxtons, Mulligan said. He also hopes to obtain more information, such as witness statements, from the criminal case. 

Mulligan, a UF graduate, said it’s been hard for him to be in Gainesville while representing both cases.

“I’ve crossed that same crosswalk,” he said. “That same road that Maggie was crossing that night, many, many, many times. It hits home with me as well.” 

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Mulligan said Lisa and James Paxton, Maggie’s parents, will sometimes cry during phone calls, and they had mixed emotions following the arrest. They are happy the arrest was made but sad that nothing can bring their daughter back.

“Lisa and James are incredible individuals,” Mulligan said. “They’re incredibly strong, they’re passionate and every time we speak on the phone with them, they’re well-spoken and educated.”

Ann von Thron, Paxton’s aunt, also appreciated the news. The 57-year-old retired pediatrician said the past several months have been difficult. 

“I have watched my brother and my sister-in-law have their hearts ripped out without anesthesia,” she said. “I have been heartsick for eight months now. This arrest gives us a sense of relief.”

Although Figueroa was arrested, von Thron believes officials should prioritize pedestrians rather than cars on West University Avenue. 

“If they're going to put so many enticing reasons for students to go enjoy themselves and to get stuff done, they need to provide a safe way back,” von Thron said. “Maggie was walking home on a legal crosswalk to go to bed early because she had a test the next day. Everything her parents had taught her to do. It wasn’t enough.”

Kailey Kiss, 21, the founder of Florida Not One More and Paxton’s sorority sister in Kappa Kappa Gamma, said she was delighted by the announcement of the arrest. 

“It’s long overdue,” she said. “I’m very, very happy that the Gainesville Police Department was able to bring justice to Maggie and her family and her friends.”

She said she founded Florida Not One More, a student-led organization that advocates for pedestrian safety and road reforms, because of Paxton.

“She just had an energy about her that was just so kind and passionate,” she said. “She’s smart, caring and beautiful. It’s really devastating to see just amazing girls like Maggie taken over things that could have been prevented.” 

Although several reforms have been made on West University Avenue, Kiss believes there’s more work to be done, such as redesigning the road.

“We’re far from over,” she said. “I wish that we were, but if I’m being honest, it's going to be at least a couple years.” 

Contact Jake Reyes at jreyes@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter at @frlJakeReyes.

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