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17-month-old toddler dies after being hit by car in Thonotosassa

Seventeen-month-old Ulysiss Franklin was killed after being struck by a car while outside his Thonotosassa home with his mother Monday. Deputies say the driver didn’t see him.

ILEANA MORALES | Times

Seventeen-month-old Ulysiss Franklin was killed after being struck by a car while outside his Thonotosassa home with his mother Monday. Deputies say the driver didn’t see him.

THONOTOSASSA — In his abbreviated life, Ulysiss Franklin Jr. caught the attention of child protection investigators twice.

The first was a year ago, when the 5-month-old was temporarily taken from his mother by investigators who believed she was being neglectful.

The second was Monday morning, when Ulysiss was killed after being struck by a car in an apartment parking lot.

A neighbor woke to screaming.

"She came out yelling, 'They killed my baby,' " said the neighbor, Juana Garcia.

Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office deputies are investigating and haven't filed charges. Child protection investigators looked into the incident, too, which they said was standard procedure.

"You have to determine if it's an accident," said Jeff Rainey, president of the child welfare agency Hillsborough Kids Inc. "This sounds like it was tragic accident."

It unfolded just before 8 a.m.

Shanita Claritt, 20, walked out of her apartment at 9417 Eastfield Road with 17-month-old Ulysiss, deputies said. She left the toddler near her vehicle as she walked toward a trash bin.

At the same time, Marcell Walsh, 31, was sitting in his Lincoln Continental, which was backed into the parking space next to Claritt's vehicle.

He was talking with a neighbor, deputies said. When he finished, he pulled away.

But Walsh apparently did not see Ulysiss and struck him with the front of his car, deputies said.

Garcia, the neighbor, said she saw the mother hugging the little boy and holding a towel to his head. Ulysiss was taken to University Community Hospital, where he died.

Claritt and Walsh could not be reached Monday for comment.

Walsh's driving record shows he was convicted this year of driving an unregistered vehicle and a seat belt violation. Adjudication was withheld for a charge of driving without a license.

He was released from prison in 2009 after serving 11 years of a 12-year sentence for armed robbery and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and possession of cocaine, state records show.

"It was just a bad accident," said Paul Jackson, 26, a neighbor of Claritt's.

Jackson said he thought Walsh and Claritt were close and it seemed like he cared for Ulysiss.

"He took care of that baby like it was his son," Jackson said.

Danny Jordan, 47, has lived across the street for 10 years. He said Claritt moved in about eight months ago.

On a road with no sidewalks, neighbors say kids are often in the road.

"They just let the kids come out here and don't watch them," Jordan said. "They just let them run around. I knew eventually it was going to happen."

Last November, when Claritt lived in Seffner, child protection investigators had stepped in.

During a search of her home, sheriff's deputies said they found Claritt's baby crying on a pillow with a loaded Smith & Wesson .40-caliber gun tucked underneath, the Tampa Tribune reported at the time.

Deputies also found a clear bag with crack cocaine in the kitchen, marijuana in the living room and "a large amount of crack cocaine" in a desk, the article said.

Deputies arrested Claritt and another woman who was caring for the baby on five charges, including drug possession and child neglect, records show.

Prosecutors pursued only a felony cocaine possession charge against Claritt.

That case appears to still be open, but its specific status was unclear Monday.

Times staff writers Colleen Jenkins, Danny Valentine and Ileana Morales contributed to this report. Shelley Rossetter can be reached at srossetter@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3374.

Attempts to reach the family for comment have been unsuccessful. If you are a family member who wishes to talk to a reporter, please call Jessica Vander Velde at (813) 226-3433 or e-mail her at jvandervelde@sptimes.com.

17-month-old toddler dies after being hit by car in Thonotosassa 11/08/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 9, 2010 12:17pm]
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