Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Public safety

Family, friends remember three St. Petersburg women killed in car crash in Desoto County

ST. PETERSBURG — The pastor's daughters were driving home after a day of song and prayer when the truck appeared in front of them.

A pickup streaking across the roadway, hydroplaning, its wheels skating across State Road 70 into their lane. LaMour Welch, 29, tried to swerve but could not avoid the impact, according to the Florida Highway Patrol. She died in the collision along with her sisters, India, 24, and Tehira, 18 — all of St. Petersburg — and a friend, Antwayne Robinson, 25, of Garner, N.C. They were returning home after attending a religious convention in Fort Pierce.

The driver of the pickup, Jennifer Zuniga, 30, of Venus, also died in the crash in De Soto County about 7 p.m. Sunday. A 6-year-old boy in her truck was the lone survivor, in critical condition at Tampa General Hospital on Monday morning.

"The way their life ended is their story," said Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch, the women's cousin. "They were coming back from a convention that celebrated their faith. I know they're in a good place now because they not only talked faith, they walked faith."

The sisters' father, Ricardo D. Welch, is the pastor at Prayer Tower Church of God in Christ in St. Petersburg. He and his wife, Darlene Butler-Welch, were in a separate car and had left before the women along with two of LaMour's three children.

"It is unimaginable. I can't express words. Anyone knows me, I love my girls," the father told WTSP 10News. "To lose my daughters in this fashion has caused a rip in my heart that can't be explained."

Robinson was a friend of India's down to attend the conference and to plan a move to Florida, said Clarence Skinner, the women's uncle. Robinson's mother, Rosalee, was unavailable for comment Monday.

India Welch and Robinson met through music, Skinner said, both lovers of gospel, a skill for which the Welch family had particular acuity. India seized upon it early.

Last year, Ken Welch said, she held a concert at her father's church.

"It was about helping other young people overcome challenges in life, and that's the kind of person she was," he said.

A former class president at Gibbs High School, India cared deeply about her community, said Terri Lipsey Scott, director of the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum. She was a family and community liaison at Bay Point Middle School, according to a school district spokeswoman.

India sang at a couple of Woodson events this year, Scott said, including the Juneteenth celebration.

"Her light will forever illuminate throughout this community," Scott said. "She has left an indelible mark on the hearts and minds of all who had the pleasure of meeting her."

LaMour Welch was another talented singer who worked as a nurse, her family said. She performed at her father's church, according to Ken Welch, and was listed on Facebook as the coordinator for a Back to School event at Prayer Tower on Aug. 21. LaMour graduated from Dixie Hollins High School in 2004.

"She grew up in the church," Skinner said.

Now, he said, family and friends will rally to support the children she left behind.

The youngest Welch, Tehira, was hearing-impaired and expressed her creative side through fashion. A rising senior at Gibbs High School, she peppered her Facebook profile with pictures of custom T-shirts and floral headbands that she sold to friends.

Devin Boyd, a cousin and friend at Gibbs, said Tehira was as devoted to faith as her sisters.

"She loved God like that was her best friend," Boyd said.

The Welches' roots in St. Petersburg are deep. One relative, Sharon, works in the city's information technology department. Mayor Rick Kriseman tweeted Monday morning about "heavy hearts . . . in City Hall (and) throughout St. Pete."

Loved ones gathered at Prayer Tower to remember and grieve early Monday. They filled the church and spilled into the parking lot under the afternoon sun.

Then they gathered again Monday night for a service that included family and church members. The girls' cousin, Elder Samuel Davis, led the service and focused on what the girls had given to the community.

"I just thank God they came in all of our lives," Davis said. "We all share in this great loss."

According to his biography on the church's website, Ricardo Welch also has one son.

Relatives identified his daughters almost exclusively through the lens of faith. They called the Welch girls inspirational, exemplary, role models.

"All of them served the Lord," said Michael Butler, the women's uncle and another minister in the family.

"These three young ladies lived for the Lord," said Rene Flowers, a family member through marriage and member of the Pinellas County School Board. "They are shining examples of what every mom and dad would want in their daughters."

India's last Facebook post Sunday afternoon was a video from the convention in Fort Pierce. A full church moved in unison, hands clapping, legs bouncing. They sang: "Blessed! Blessed! That's what we are."

Ken Welch said the family learned of the crash about 4 a.m.

While family members gathered Monday night at Prayer Tower, members of another congregation came together for a quiet vigil at Genesis Worship Center church on 49th Street S. None of the Welch woman were members, but India was there so often she felt like part of the flock, said cousin Clayton Harmon, a 49-year-old St. Petersburg resident who attends the church.

Last Friday, India, LaMour and Antwayne performed there with a group called PRAZE Inc. India's singing "took us to a whole different place," Harmon said.

One song, I Trust You, about trusting in God's love, offers comfort now, Harmon said.

"Because I know that's what she would want us to do," he said.

Pastor Clarence Williams of the Greater Mount Zion AME Church said he spent the morning with Ricardo Welch at the family's home along with a number of other close friends.

"They have been here for so many people in this community," he said. "It's time for the community to be there for them."

Times news researcher Caryn Baird, and staff writers Tony Marrero and Elizabeth Djinis contributed to this report. Contact Zachary T. Sampson at [email protected] Follow @ZackSampson.

   
Comments
Argument over dog leads to fatal shooting in Polk County

Argument over dog leads to fatal shooting in Polk County

A Fort Meade man was killed Monday night and two others were wounded after Polk County deputies say they approached a man while searching for a lost dog.The shooting occurred around 6:45 p.m. at the home of suspected shooter Charles Peddycoart, at 41...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Deadly Sunday for swimmers in bay area waters

Deadly Sunday for swimmers in bay area waters

Two people drowned and another suffered life-threatening injuries in the waters of Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday.Investigators said all three cases appear to be accidents, but the incidents stand as a reminder that summer, with vacation ...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Pinellas deputies arrest Mississippi man 31 years after sexual battery

Pinellas deputies arrest Mississippi man 31 years after sexual battery

SEMINOLE — She was 22 when deputies said a man forced her at knifepoint into the woods off Seminole Boulevard and sexually battered her in February 1987.The case went cold, but now the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office said it has arrested the man it ...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Tampa police seek driver who struck pedestrian and drove off

Tampa police seek driver who struck pedestrian and drove off

TAMPA — Police are seeking the public’s help in locating the driver who fatally struck a pedestrian on Sunday night and then drove off.The incident took place at 9:15 p.m. near the intersection of N Nebraska Avenue and E Linebaugh Avenue.No details a...
Updated: 11 hours ago
St. Petersburg teen, seven months pregnant, dies in Pasco crash

St. Petersburg teen, seven months pregnant, dies in Pasco crash

HUDSON — A 16-year-old St. Petersburg teen who was seven months pregnant was fatally injured in a crash Sunday night, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.The incident took place at 9:11 p.m. on Little Road south of Hudson Avenue. The teen, Emily ...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Tampa man rescued from near drowning in waters off Whiskey Joe’s

Tampa man rescued from near drowning in waters off Whiskey Joe’s

A Tampa man was hospitalized with life-threatening injuries on Sunday after he was rescued from a near drowning off the shores of Whiskey Joe’s Tampa Bar & Grill, a popular hangout on the beach of the Courtney Campbell Causeway.When police officers a...
Published: 06/18/18
Man caught in rip current, drowns off Lido Beach

Man caught in rip current, drowns off Lido Beach

A man who was swimming off Lido Beach got caught in a rip current and drowned Sunday night.According to the Sarasota Police Department, the unidentified man was swimming with a woman near Big Pass, a boater channel, around 10 p.m. before becoming cau...
Published: 06/18/18
Child, 1, killed in single-car crash in Ruskin

Child, 1, killed in single-car crash in Ruskin

RUSKIN — A 1-year-old child was killed Sunday night and four family members were hospitalized when their vehicle overturned into a ditch.Deputies, responding to the scene after receiving several 911 calls around 6:30 p.m., located the overturned vehi...
Published: 06/18/18
Tampa man drowns in waters near Gandy Bridge

Tampa man drowns in waters near Gandy Bridge

A Tampa man drowned Sunday night in the waters on the Pinellas side of the Gandy Bridge.According to Pinellas County deputies, 28-year-old Cruz Sales-Lopez was swimming with girlfriend Erika Fuentes Ambrosio, 33, near the northwest side of the Gandy ...
Published: 06/18/18
St. Petersburg teen, 16, and unborn child killed in Pasco crash

St. Petersburg teen, 16, and unborn child killed in Pasco crash

A St. Petersburg teen, 16, and her unborn child were killed Sunday night in a crash in Pasco County, according to a release from the Florida Highway Patrol. Emily Pearson was killed on Little Road at 9:11 p.m. She was a passenger in a 1997 Ford Rang...
Published: 06/18/18