Florida Dad-to-Be Found Dead in Submerged Car Days After He Went Missing

The man was found dead inside his car, which was submerged in a retention pond in Kissimmee, according to authorities



A Florida barbershop owner and father-to-be was found dead last week, days after he failed to return home and was reported missing.

Jose Rafael Malavez Lebron was found dead Friday inside his car, which was submerged in a retention pond by Waters Edge Drive and Lost Creek Court in Kissimmee, according to a statement from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office (OCSO).

The 36-year-old was last seen at about 3 a.m. local time on May 15 near Ward Road and Bishop Landing Way, per the sheriff’s office. He was said to be driving a 2013 Black Cadillac ATS at the time.

He was reported missing the following day, according to the OCSO. Loved ones expressed “concern for Jose's well being due to his lack of contact” with his family, they added.

Five days later, his body was found inside his car, which was submerged in the body of water.

The Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) said the man was going around a corner when he lost control of his car and hit a utility box before careening into the water, according to a press release obtained by PEOPLE.

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Anthony Castaneta, who raised Jose “since he was 3 months old” after the man's biological father died under “similar” circumstances, told CBS affiliate WKMG-TV that Jose said he planned to return home around 3 a.m. on May 15.

When he never arrived," they “already knew something wasn’t right."

The man's loved ones initially filed a missing persons report in Osceola County “not knowing that the incident was in Orange County,” Castaneda told the outlet.

"He was a strong kid, a good kid,” Castaneta said, according to NBC affiliate WESH.

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Jose was expecting his first child, a baby girl named Gia, with his fiancé Sofia Ramirez, who is due in August, according to a GoFundMe campaign started to support his family.

"They were both ecstatic and anxiously awaiting their baby girl" and "had exciting plans on celebrating," read a message on the fundraising page.

The Florida man, who was a popular local barber before he passed away, met his partner at the barbershop he owned, according to WKMG-TV.

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Ramirez told WESH that she never imagined that something like this would happen to her baby’s father.

"Until the last minute, she always hoped that he was going to come back alive,” Valerie Romero, Malavez’s sister, told the outlet, translating for Ramirez.

About 100 people gathered at the man's business in Kissimmee on Sunday to celebrate his life, according to WESH.

Castaneta said despite the “pain and sorrow,” he believes “there’s a reason for all of this,” per the report.

“It's telling us life is precious," he added.

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