(This story originally appeared in the Bradenton Herald)
BRADENTON — Mario Gonzalo Salazar began to worry as he stood outside his Bradenton home last Thursday. His younger brother, Silvio Cayaxon Salazar, was supposed to pick him up. The brothers worked long hours together installing tile floors, and Silvio always drove them to their job sites.
But on Aug. 18, Silvio never showed up in his Nissan pickup truck. Nor did he answer Mario’s phone calls.
Patience wore thin, and so the 35-year-old dialed his brother again, and again, and again. Still, no response.
“By the afternoon, I began searching for him. Searching and searching and searching and I couldn’t find him,” Mario said in Spanish, his brown eyes staring ahead. “I searched for him all day.”
Police notified Mario the following morning of the tragic news: Salazar, 33, was killed in a traffic crash in Lakewood Ranch. Florida Highway Patrol troopers said Salazar was involved in the crash reported at 6:02 a.m. on State Road 70 at the intersection with Post Boulevard, near the Premier Sports Campus.
A semitrailer driven by a 37-year-old Tampa man was traveling eastbound on S.R. 70. Salazar, troopers said, was traveling westbound on S.R. 70 when he crossed the double yellow center lines into the path of the semi. The left side of his vehicle struck the left side of the trailer.
Salazar was transported to Lakewood Ranch Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead as a result of injuries sustained in the crash.
“Until this day, I can’t find. … I can’t believe this has happened,” Mario said. “Right now, in this moment, I feel really disoriented. I don’t know what to do. I can’t find a reason for this, and I can’t believe he died. He was the foundation of our family.”
Mario found himself on a bench Thursday evening outside Brown & Sons Funeral Homes & Crematory in Bradenton. He fidgeted with his hands but kept them steady long enough for those wanting to offer their condolences with a handshake. They were there to bid farewell to Silvio.
Silvio was the first of their family to leave Guatemala for the United States 17 years ago, his brother said. Though Silvio was younger, his three siblings always held him up as the older brother.
“He guided us. He’s given everything he could to our mother,” Mario said. “He has been the foundation of us all.”
Henry Echevarria, 43, was friends with Silvio for about a decade. They were really close and even worked together for a time. About a month ago, they hung out together at the Coliseum’s Latin night.
“He was one of my best friends,” he said. “I had great trust in him.”
About 40 people sat in dark blue pews inside the funeral home. Several cried, and others murmured in Spanish. A few prayed. Silvio’s body was in a casket at the far end of the room, surrounded by flower arrangements. A visitation program bore an elaborate cross on its cover, and inside a poem titled “Risa (Laughter).”
According to Silvio’s aunt, Elena Salazar, the family is currently in talks with the Guatemalan Consulate to see if they could receive help with transporting Silvio’s body back to Guatemala. For now, a GoFundMe account has been created for donations to help with funeral expenses.
A pastor later spoke to mourners in Spanish of life’s difficulties. None of us know how we will die, he said, but we will all leave this earth.
Mario hung his head from the front row. After he cried into a tissue, a girl seated beside him placed it gingerly inside a clear plastic bag containing other crumpled tissues. Mario looked over at his brother in a casket before hanging his head again.