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Before fatal crash, St. Petersburg teens 'always together'

ST. PETERSBURG — They were sisters — not by blood, but through their shared love of drawing, Nintendo Wii, long talks and music.

Both 16, Alexia Douglas and Christina Shiver collected ticket stubs from rock shows and summer Warped Tours. Alexia taped dozens to her dresser mirror, leaving little room to inspect her dark-haired, green-eyed reflection.

On a book shelf, next to her favorite cotton-candy body spray, she kept the next adventure: Of Mice and Men, playing May 2 at St. Petersburg's Jannus Live.

It's exactly as she left it before the crash Friday — before, for reasons still unexplained, a Ford Escape being driven by Christina Shiver slammed into a guardrail on 40th Avenue NE, killing Alexia in the passenger seat. Christina suffered minor injuries.

St. Petersburg police said Sunday that they had no additional information on the crash to release. No one answered the door at Christina's home.

At the school the two attended, Northeast High School, the principal Sunday sent a recorded message to parents. Grief counselors will be at the school this morning.

"Everybody is just distraught about it," said principal Kevin Hendrick.

Weeks earlier, Alexia was giddy to go scream and dance to one of her favorite bands with Christina. Her mom said it was her escape from the daily grind at Northeast High, where Alexia ranked in the top 1 percent of her sophomore class.

"They were always, always together," said Barbara Nicholl. "They got along with everybody, but they always said they were each others' only friend. Every weekend it was Alexia and Christina."

They met at Meadowlawn Middle School, stayed close through high school and developed a routine: Alexia spent the night at Christina's house on Fridays and Saturdays. The girls often returned to Nicholl's house on Sundays to share stories and watch VH1.

One example of their closeness hangs on Alexia's closet door: a striped, pencil-sketched cat. "Christina drew that for Alexia because I'm allergic and she could never have one here," said Nicholl. "She said, 'Now you have one.' "

On Friday, Nicholl drove her daughter to Christina's house on Oregon Avenue NE.

Christina, she said, had recently gotten her driver's license. The girls didn't have set plans. Maybe they'd go to the mall. Maybe they'd watch Twilight or The Walking Dead.

Sometime after 8 p.m., police came to Nicholl's home on Second Street N, where she lives with her 17-year-old son. They knocked five minutes before Nicholl had the nerve to answer.

She thought: Is Alexia in trouble? Alexia's never in trouble.

Slowly, a St. Petersburg officer told her what happened: The girls were heading west on 40th Avenue NE in a 2008 Ford Escape just before 7 p.m. Christina became distracted and swerved right. The SUV mounted a concrete barrier on the bridge over Placido Bayou and crashed into a guardrail that pierced the windshield. Alexia died instantly.

A man who lives nearby said he watched an emergency crew clear the scene and speak to Christina.

Doug Ruppel, 60, remembers it this way: After the wreck, Christina believed her best friend was alive. She wanted to ride in the ambulance with Alexia. According to him, she said, "I just looked away for a second."

Nothing now feels real, Nicholl said. The calls and sympathy cards and tears keep coming.

"I've talked to Christina's mom, but not Christina," she said. "I'm afraid I'll ask too many questions, and I'm not ready to hear the answers. Not yet."

Alexia's dad, who lives in San Diego, is flying to St. Petersburg. Nicholl has planned the funeral, selecting childhood photos to be displayed in a collage.

"We were best friends," she said. "We talked about everything. The other kids wouldn't believe what Alexia would share with me. Everything. I thought we would stay that way forever. And now …" She trailed off, holding a baby photo.

"I can't believe she's gone."

Staff writers Dan Sullivan and Andrew Meacham contributed to this report. Danielle Paquette can be reached at dpaquette@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4224.

Funeral services

Alexia Douglas' funeral will be held at 4 p.m. Thursday at Park Street Baptist Church, 3901 Park St. N in St. Petersburg. Friends are welcome to attend.

Before fatal crash, St. Petersburg teens 'always together' 04/21/13 [Last modified: Monday, April 22, 2013 7:35am]
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