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Pasco mother blames school for daughter's death in 2011

Haley Mamonoff, 9, center, reads her memories of her big sister while receiving a hug from her mother, Christine, at Thursday night’s vigil in the parking lot of Generations Christian Church.

ALEX ORLANDO | Times

Haley Mamonoff, 9, center, reads her memories of her big sister while receiving a hug from her mother, Christine, at Thursday night’s vigil in the parking lot of Generations Christian Church.

A year later, the pain hasn't subsided for Christine Mamonoff.

She feels it when she drives past Mitchell High School. And when she looks at old cheerleading photos. It burns most at 3:10 in the afternoon, when Cierra was supposed to come home from school.

Now, more than a passing mention of her daughter brings out tears and a pack of Marlboro Lights.

On Jan. 19, 2011, 15-year-old Cierra Mamonoff was crossing Little Road about a mile south of Mitchell High when she was hit and killed by a car. Her mother says school officials could have prevented her death — and she's pursuing legal action with the hope of changing their supervision and tardiness policies.

It was 9:30 a.m. that January morning and they were running late, said Deanna Autullo, 16, who drove the two to school. Rather than walk into class tardy and risk suspension, they decided to cut the first class of the day. Between first and second period, they could slip into class undetected, she reasoned.

Cierra, Deanna and Deanna's boyfriend were walking to his house, just down the road, to wait for the next bell. Cierra and Deanna were holding hands, walking east, when they got to the median of Little Road. They let go. Deanna saw the car and stopped. Cierra didn't.

The driver could not have avoided the accident, authorities determined. Cierra tested negative for drugs in her toxicology report, her mother emphasized.

Christine Mamonoff said the accident could have been prevented by the school.

She said two security guards are stationed at the school's entrances every morning to keep students from leaving. But some students are dropped off and congregate in a nearby parking lot off school grounds. During the school day and at that parking lot, she contends, the school was responsible for her daughter.

"The school is supposed to monitor their campus and surrounding areas," Mamonoff said. "If (students) hang out there, I think (the school) should."

Last June, she filed a notice of intent to sue the school, a required first step for someone pursuing legal action against a government entity. The notice, drafted by Mamonoff's attorney Stacy Kemp, offered to drop the matter and settle out of court for $1 million.

Mitchell High has not responded to the notice and does not intend to, said Pasco School Board attorney Dennis Alfonso.

"It's a tragic situation," he said. "We're certainly not conceding liability."

Mamonoff said she intends to pursue a wrongful death lawsuit. She said she wants to make her point that "kids are kids, and (schools) have to be ready for that."

"If they would have, Cierra would be here today," she said.

High school's not the same without Cierra, her friends say. Varsity cheerleaders still feel the empty spot on the team.

At least 15 students have her name tattooed somewhere on their bodies. Alongside her name, crosses stand and praying hands clasp rosary beads on the forearms of several Mitchell High boys. They were the pall bearers.

Cierra's last boyfriend, Stewart Marcantoni, 17, missed her candlelight vigil this week. He was at a tattoo parlor, getting her name put on him, too.

On Thursday night, in the parking lot of Generations Christian Church, friends and family huddled under a street lamp. One boy sat alone on a parking block, smoking a cigarette, his camouflage hat pulled down over his eyes. Girls wearing green bandanas, Cierra's favorite color, wiped streams of mascara from their cheeks. Some just held each other.

The crowd shuffled out to a field by Little Road, just 50 paces from the spot where they lost Cierra a year before. They lit candles and spread out to form two rings of light that would have taken up a high school football field.

Friends stood in the center where they recounted their times with the girl who used entire packets of ketchup on each french fry at Great Subs and More before cheer practice at Wildcat Allstars. Who swung her hips and moved her fists in a butter churning motion at summer camp, in what she called "the chicken song." Who danced with her friends at sleepovers to Fergie's My Humps.

Candles down to the end of their wicks, the group huddled around Mamonoff and her other daughter, Haley, in one bright halo.

Cars whisked past on the highway.

Speakers in the parking lot echoed with the chorus from Long Enough by Rascal Flatts.

"No, it wasn't long enough. It wasn't long enough. Together."

Alex Orlando can be reached at aorlando@tampabay.com or (727) 869-6247.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: Haley Mamonoff, the younger sister of a teen who was hit and killed by a car last year, is 9 years old. A photo caption with the original version of this story gave an incorrect age.

Pasco mother blames school for daughter's death in 2011 01/20/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 24, 2012 2:06pm]
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