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Parents move on after inquiry of van that plowed across Citrus Park softball field

CITRUS PARK — Desiree Chambers ticks off the various ways an April accident at a Little League softball field has affected her family.

Her brand new iPhone and a stroller were destroyed. The chair that Chambers' mother and 19-month-old daughter were sitting in seconds before the crash was left mangled.

The toddler, who turns 2 today, has had trouble sleeping ever since.

"She wakes up four or fives times in the middle of the night screaming like she's in agony or she's terrified," Chambers said.

Two weeks after the accident, Ed Craig, Chambers' father-in-law, hired Bloomberg Consulting to conduct an independent analysis. It cost him about $5,000.

Craig, a contractor, said it was worth the money to find the truth about the accident that affected his three granddaughters. The two oldest, now ages 8 and 10, were playing on the softball field where the errant minivan finally came to a stop.

Now it has been more than three months since 22-year-old Peter James Lewis barreled through Little League games in progress at Ed Radice Park, near Race Track and Mobley roads.

At the time, the Rockets softball team, composed of girls ages 6 to 9, was on the field playing defense as parents watched from lawn chairs. About 12:30 p.m., the adults heard a commotion coming from behind and scrambled to get away. No one was injured, and the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office has labeled the crash a "freak accident."

Still, a cadre of parents refused to let the matter go for weeks, inspiring headlines and a TV news report.

Few, however, have been as adamant as Chambers and Craig in commissioning a separate analysis of the event.

The Bloomberg investigation, which concluded recently, found that Lewis had control over the van's steering during the accident. For the vehicle to have traveled as far as it did, crashing through fences and a dugout in the process, he was either speeding excessively on the road or accelerated as he crossed into the fields, the report said.

Michael Bosworth, a senior engineer for Bloomberg, said the report's findings contradict what the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office has said happened the day of the accident. He believes police should have asked Lewis, the driver, more questions to determine his intent, instead of labeling the crash an unfortunate accident.

Maj. Ray Lawton of the Sheriff's Office reviewed the Bloomberg report with Craig, but he wasn't concerned about the findings. He said Bosworth didn't have access to all the evidence from the crash scene, but the conclusions he reached raise some of the same questions that deputies faced.

Many of the details about the crash were hard to pinpoint, especially after Lewis hired a lawyer and refused to release medical records, Lawton said.

Either way, the report wasn't enough to make the Sheriff's Office reopen its case, which was closed in June. Authorities determined that a tire blowout caused the accident, and some type of medical emergency may have impaired Lewis' movements. One of the many soda cans littering the van's floor also may have lodged under a pedal, allowing the vehicle to retain its speed, deputies said. Lewis couldn't be reached for comment on this story.

In the days since reviewing the Bloomberg report, Craig has begrudgingly decided to let the issue lie. He doesn't believe the Sheriff's Office explanations, but he also doesn't believe the truth will ever be exposed.

"They keep making up different stories," he sad. "There's nothing for me to do. I just have to accept things the way they are and move on."

Other parents who initially shared his concerns also have decided to move on.

On June 15, sheriff's officials met with parents to discuss their findings.

Brigette Coble arrived skeptical about the investigation. But after getting all her questions answered, she left with a different outlook.

"We're just moving on, trying to put it behind us," she said. "I hope nothing like that ever happens again."

Chambers was on vacation and couldn't attend the meeting. But even after hearing about the Sheriff's Office conclusions, she isn't satisfied.

Now she is left with a fire in her belly but no clear course of action.

Lewis' roommate, who owned the minivan, had allowed his insurance to lapse, so Chambers can't file a claim for property damage.

She's considered filing a lawsuit, but an attorney refused to take her case because no one was injured. She isn't sure who she would sue or what she might ask for.

"I just want someone to be held accountable," she said.

Although Chambers is glad no one was hurt, she says damage was done that should be acknowledged. She doesn't want to let the issue die.

"It is a horrific event that did not need to happen," Chambers said, "and now I want to figure out why it did."

Tia Mitchell can be reached at tmitchell@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3405.

Parents move on after inquiry of van that plowed across Citrus Park softball field 08/04/11 [Last modified: Thursday, August 4, 2011 5:30am]
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