Riverview family establishes fund in honor of DUI victim, 5

RIVERVIEW

From her folder of newspaper clippings and drawings, Sharon Trapp pulled out a picture of a heart with a small red handprint on it and the name "Lilly" signed in pencil. The top said "grandparents, hold our hands for a short while and our hearts forever."

Reading the quote, Trapp started to cry as she remembered her great-granddaughter Lilly Mills who died July 2 after her family's van was hit by a suspected drunken driver.

The Riverview family is "just devastated," said Trapp after a suspected drunken driver claimed the life of the 5-year-old and injured five other family members two weeks ago.

The bright blue-eyed little girl had just graduated from preschool and was looking forward to starting kindergarten in August.

"She was so smart. She knew every state in the U.S.," Trapp said. "She just knew everything."

Tabi Deneweth's daughter Roxy called Lilly her best friend. The two girls met in preschool and often played at the park together.

"She was beautiful, quiet, thoughtful. She was just perfect," Deneweth said.

Deneweth's family released balloons last weekend in Lilly's honor. Roxy drew a picture and attached a flower to send with the balloons to her friend in heaven, she said.

"(Roxy) told my husband that Lilly was in heaven, and that it was 'pretty cool' that she gets to meet God," Deneweth said. "She says Lilly is a rainbow now."

Deneweth described the funeral Tuesday as a beautiful ceremony, fitting of a 5-year-old. Pink and purple decorations and butterflies adorned the chapel. After the ceremony, the family walked out to the back garden and released butterflies in Lilly's honor.

The collision occurred July 1 as the family was returning home from a mall in Brandon. A pickup truck struck their van at U.S. 301 and Bloomingdale Avenue about 9:30 p.m.

All six occupants, including four children, were taken to Tampa General Hospital. Lilly's father, Paul Mills, 29, seriously injured his neck and back and is unable to work. Her sister, Audrey Mills, 7, also was seriously injured. The driver of the van, Lilly's mother, Samantha Populin, 25, and Lilly's sisters Sophia Mills, 2, and Kayla Mills, 10, received minor injuries, the Florida Highway Patrol said.

Lilly, who was sitting in the van on the side struck by the pickup, was removed from life support the next day, Trapp said.

The driver of the pickup, Rolando Rojas, 52, of Tampa, was driving on U.S. 301 when he tried to squeeze his truck between two cars stopped at a light, the patrol said. His Ford sideswiped both cars before hitting the Mills' Chrysler van, which was turning onto Bloomingdale Avenue on a green light. The collision caused Rojas' truck to hit a fourth vehicle and overturn, troopers said.

Rojas faces charges of vehicular homicide, DUI manslaughter, DUI with serious bodily injury, DUI, four counts of DUI with property damage or injury and reckless driving with serious bodily injury. His attorney could not be reached for comment.

Rojas remains in the Hillsborough County jail on $160,500 bail.

A version of this story appeared in earlier editions of the Times. Biz Carson can be reached at ecarson@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2441.

. fast facts

How to help

Donations to support the family can be made in Lilly's honor at any Bank of America branch to the Samantha Populin/Paul Mills Contribution Fund.

Lilly's preschool, the Village, is also accepting donations of nonperishable food items for the family. The family is vegetarian so the school recommends items like beans and rice. A bin for donated food is inside the door of the school at 3741 Canoga Park Drive in Brandon.

Riverview family establishes fund in honor of DUI victim, 5 07/14/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 13, 2011 5:05pm]

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