Formal charges filed against woman police say crashed into pond during I-95 pursuit

Caretakers of 5-year-old, who investigators say was found dead in car, say child was ‘bubbly’ & packed with a huge personality

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Fourth District State Attorney’s Office on Thursday filed formal charges against Pamela Cabrera, who Jacksonville police said crashed into a retention pond off Interstate 95 near the State Road 9B exit at the end of a police pursuit.

According to her arrest report, Cabrera’s 5-year-old daughter was in the car at the time of the crash. The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office dive team found the girl’s body in the passenger seat, the report said.

RELATED: | Family remembers infectious laugh of 5-year-old who died in pond after JSO says she was kidnapped

Vanity Cabrera

The charges filed by the State Attorney’s Office include vehicular homicide, aggravated manslaughter of a child, aggravated fleeing that causes death, battery on a police officer and battery on a health care provider.

Cabrera is being held on a $2.2 million bond and is due in court April 21. Family members have said she is pregnant.

On Thursday, for the first time, News4JAX spoke with the aunt and uncle of the child.

“We considered Vanity our daughter,” said the uncle, Manuel Baez. “Losing her is no different than us losing our biological daughter. The pain, in a sense, is still the same.”

Her relatives say she was little, but packed with a huge personality.

Aunt and uncle stand with Vanity in this photo provided by family.

“She was bubbly,” said Whitney Baez, Vanity’s aunt. “She was one of those kids that skipped everywhere...She was always just wanting to share fun and laughter.”

Vanity lived with the two in Jacksonville after the Department of Children and Families determined Cabrera was unfit to take care of her in 2020.

These challenging circumstances didn’t stop Vanity from being full of life.

“We would go to the park and the first thing she would do is ask kids if they wanted to play,” Whitney Baez said.

However, this life they all built together changed on March 31.

Investigators said the 5-year-old was kidnapped from the aunt and uncle’s home.

“She never had us at knifepoint. It was just a supervised visit to went wrong to say the least,” Whitney Baez said.

Cabrera then led officers on a 30-mile chase from the Northside to the retention pond, which was near the Duval County-St. Johns County line. Cabrera was pulled out of the pond alive, but Vanity did not make it.

“It truly just feels like you’re in a dream, and occasionally, it just hits you. And you’re just broken down,” Manuel Baez said.

Court records reveal Cabrera has a history with the law and suffers from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Her sister said that her family repeatedly tried to get her help, but she’s continuously struggled with her mental health. However, they tell News4Jax they are not excusing Cabrera for her actions.

“She would go to hospitals and they would tell her to leave saying she’s fine because she’s behaving fine,” said Whitney Baez. “She’s not an evil mom. She’s not that. She’s a mom who loved Vanity and really lost her way with this mental health issue.”

Now they are focusing on preparing to say their final goodbyes to Vanity, — holding on to the memories they made together, extra close.

About the Authors:

Renee Beninate is a Florida native and award-winning reporter who joined the News4Jax team in June 2021.