Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

A Tampa mom wonders if her young son would still be alive if he'd worn his seat belt

TAMPA — Andrew Schnitker, 22, was about to start a new phase of life.

An honors graduate at Gaither High School, where he ran track and made it to the state finals, he studied architecture at the University of South Florida.

Polite and friendly, he was taking his final classes and preparing for postgraduate work in architecture.

"Andrew was a great kid. He had a lot going for him. He had a bright future," said his mother, Melinda Schnitker.

If only, she said repeatedly between sobs, her son had worn his seat belt.

It was about 4 a.m. Thursday as Schnitker sped west from Northdale Boulevard onto Mapledale Drive, said Hillsborough sheriff's officials.

His Nissan sport utility vehicle veered out of control on a curve, rolled over and slid into a wall at Northdale and Braesgate Lane.

Schnitker was ejected from the car. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

''There's a good possibility that he may have survived or only received some survivable injuries had he been wearing his seat belt," said Hillsborough sheriff's spokesman Larry McKinnon.

Passenger Stephen Cole Berndt, 25, was uninjured. He was wearing a seat belt.

A crash investigation is under way, and authorities said they suspect alcohol was a factor but would not elaborate.

The accident occurred in the middle of national seat belt safety campaign, Click It or Ticket.

"It's the law to wear a seat belt and a $100 fine if you don't," McKinnon said. "But that is the least of the consequences."

Less than a half-mile from the early-morning crash, neighbors hugged Schnitker's heartbroken mother outside her home.

Several neighbors cried with her.

Many families on or near Briarberry Lane have friends close to Schnitker's age. Many of them spent years playing basketball and video games together.

Schnitker's mother cried out: "I want his friends to come over. I need to see them."

Next-door neighbor Lucille LaBrusciano said Schnitker was a wonderful boy who always stopped to say hello. He helped his dad mow the lawn and wash the cars.

She said her own son did better in school because he saw Schnitker get good grades.

Bardia Demneh, 19, showed up and hugged the mother of his childhood friend.

The mother asked about the passenger in her son's car. Demneh told her that Berndt was wearing a seat belt and wasn't hurt.

Schnitker sobbed.

"Oh my God! I lost my son because he wouldn't wear his seat belt," Schnitker said.

Demneh said Schnitker was one of his best childhood friends.

They first met when Demneh was walking down the street and Schnitker invited him to throw a football around.

That led to sleepovers and long hours of basketball in the driveway.

Demneh became one of the group.

He still remembers the names and phone numbers of numerous neighborhood boys who would crowd into a living room for a robust game of Xbox.

Reached at her home, Berndt's mother cried at the thought of losing a son.

She said her own son was devastated at the loss of a friend.

"It's so tragic. Every spring break, someone dies," she said. "It's so sad when it's someone so young."

A Tampa mom wonders if her young son would still be alive if he'd worn his seat belt 03/24/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 24, 2011 11:01pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Cubs down Dodgers 3-2; force NLCS Game 5 Thursday

    Ml

    CHICAGO — Javier Baez snapped an 0-for-20 skid with two home runs, former Ray Wade Davis hung on for a six-out save and the Cubs avoided a sweep, holding off the Dodgers 3-2 Wednesday night in Game 4 of the NL Championship Series.

  2. One of the best places for investing in a rental house is in Tampa Bay

    Real Estate

    Two Tampa Bay ZIP Codes are drawing national attention.

    . If you're looking to invest in a house to rent out, few places are better than  ZIP Code 34607 in Hernando County's Spring Hill area, according to ATTOM Data Solutions.
[LANCE ROTHSTEIN   |  Times
 file photo]

  3. Bucs' Vernon Hargreaves: 'I'm not making any plays'

    Bucs

    TAMPA — Eli Manning gathered his receivers together on the sideline during the Giants' Week 4 game against the Bucs and told them he planned to target the weakest link of the secondary all afternoon.

    Patriots receiver Chris Hogan gets position in front of Bucs cornerback Vernon Hargreaves for a 5-yard touchdown pass in New England’s win on Oct. 5.
  4. Suspect in Maryland office park shooting is apprehended

    Nation

    EDGEWOOD, Md. — A man with a lengthy criminal past who was fired from a job earlier this year for punching a colleague showed up for work at a countertop company on Wednesday and shot five of his co-workers has been arrested, authorities said. Three of them were killed and two critically wounded.

    Harford County, Md., Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler shows a picture of Radee Labeeb Prince, the suspect in the workplace shootings.
  5. Lightning's J.T. Brown to stop anthem protest, focus on community involvement

    Lightning Strikes

    COLUMBUS, Ohio — Lightning wing J.T. Brown will no longer raise his first as a protest during the national anthem before games.

    J.T. Brown says he will work more with the Tampa police and groups that serve at-risk young people.