TAMPA — She was never meant to be there on Sheldon Road that night, not on a child's scooter and most certainly not alone.
For all of her life, Isabel Alarcon Mateus, born with developmental disabilities, had family watching over her. That was still true Christmas night, when she called her mother to pick her up from a party with friends at a Town 'N Country mobile home park.
Her mother was on the way, but Mateus didn't wait. Instead she got on a borrowed small electric Razor scooter and began heading south down the dark, four-lane roadway. Just before midnight she was hit from behind by a motorist who had little hope of ever seeing the 20-year-old in his path.
"We're devastated. We were on our way, but why didn't she wait?" said Mateus' aunt, Joanna Paulino. "We even saw the horrible accident on the side of the road, but we didn't stop because we didn't know it was her."
Mateus and her family moved to Town 'N Country from Colombia in 2003, Paulino said. She was born with a developmental disability that "made her more like a 14-year-old than a 20-year-old," Paulino said, and was enrolled in exceptional student education classes at Alonso High School.
Still, friends, family and former teachers all remember Mateus as precocious and loving with a constant smile on her face. Friends say she was involved in ROTC classes and was a hard worker.
"Even when people would make fun of her, she still had a smile," said 17-year-old Janie Gary, a friend and classmate of Mateus' since they met in sixth grade at Davidsen Middle School in Tampa.
"We became friends because she waved at me and said 'Hi' when I was new in school," Gary said. "She loves to walk and hang out with her friends, that's her favorite thing."
That's what Mateus was doing Christmas night at Carefree Village mobile home park, the neighborhood where she and her family had lived for five years before moving out three weeks earlier.
As her mother drove to get her, Mateus tried to make it home on her own on a scooter that didn't belong to her, family members said. The small Razor Pocket Mod electric scooter had only a small headlight, no rear lights, and was not a legal motor vehicle, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.
Advertisements for the scooter say its top speed is 15 mph.
The speed limit on Sheldon Road is 45 mph.
Mateus was southbound in the inside lane of Sheldon Road when she was struck by a 2003 Pontiac Vibe driven by 47-year-old Brian Edward Joyner about 11:30 p.m. The impact ejected Mateus from the scooter near the intersection of W Hamilton Avenue, deputies reported. The scooter was then struck by a second car.
Mateus was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital, where she later died. Now, her family is hoping a Go Fund Me page set up by Mateus' 18-year-old sister, Heydi Alarcon, will raise enough money to pay funeral expenses.
"We haven't accepted it," Paulino, Mateus' aunt, said. "She was very special to us. She was a girl with so much love, so forgiving, and she never got mad. She was everything."
Contact Anastasia Dawson at [email protected] or (813) 226-3377. Follow @adawsonwrites.