The father of a 9-year-old and 8-year-old killed in a Nassau County crash two months ago now plans to push for new custody legislation so that no one else will suffer the same loss.
According to the Florida Highway Patrol, Tonya Capailla-Eason is facing two counts of DUI manslaughter in the death of her two sons, Nicholai Capallia and Nehemiah Capallia-Bird.
Investigators said Capallia-Eason was driving with seven children in a Ford Explorer and had a blood alcohol level almost double the legal limit when she struck a utility pole Oct. 22 on Lonnie Crews Road.
The boys' father, Andrew Bird, said his sons never should have been in Florida in the first place and will be pushing for new legislation in Florida and Michigan that would stop parents from taking their children to another state during a custody battle.
"I am going to fight in both states to get the laws changes in both states. And, ultimately, I would hope that it’s a federal thing so that when a custody case is started, you can’t just take the kids and run. That’s not how its supposed to work," Bird said.
Bird told News4Jax Wednesday that he and Capallia-Eason had been in a custody battle for years over their three children, including the two boys who died in the October crash. He said he was granted custody of the children in Michigan court.
"It was extraordinarily ongoing. There were then, I think, dating back to 2014 had multi-jurisdictional court battles between Michigan and Florida where the same fight was being fought in both jurisdictions," said Randy Reep, attorney at Reep Law Firm and legal analyst.
According to court documents, Bird's parenting time complaint form said, "Tonya took our our children to Florida during the custody proceedings in Michigan."
News4Jax also found an order signed by a Michigan judge on April 27, 2015, giving custody of the kids to Bird. A bench warrant was also issued on Sept. 30, 2015, for Capallia-Eason for not appearing in court.
Birth said he had and Capallia-Eason had seen better days together after they met in Georgia in 2006. During that time, they had three children, but never married. In 2009, they moved to Michigan.
Then in 2013, the couple broke up and the custody battle began shortly after.
Reep said the attempt to get a new law isn't unheard of, adding that a similar custody battle happened in 2000 with Elian Gonzalez and a little boy from Cuba.
"Ultimately, that child was returned to Cuba because the father had been awarded custody there. Similarly, the states in the union are supposed to give full faith and credit to judges that make decisions that come out of other states," Reep said.
Even though Bird was given temporary custody of Nina, his daughter who survived the crash, and the remains of his two sons, Bird said, he is still paying child support to Capailla-Eason.
Troopers said Capallia-Eason is being held in the Nassau County Jail on $500,000 bond. She could face four to 15 years in prison for each charge.