ST. PETERSBURG — A mother and her two children — ages 4 and 6 — suffered severe injuries after their car slammed head-on into a Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority bus Tuesday evening.
The driver of the bus and a passenger also were injured in the violent crash, which occurred about 6:30 p.m. on 15th Avenue S near 25th Street.
St. Petersburg police said Shanikwa Lynette Thomas, 24, was driving a Buick west on 15th Avenue S when she came upon three cars that were going below the speed limit.
Thomas veered to the left to pass the cars and crossed the double line. She struck the eastbound PSTA bus head-on. Three passengers and a driver were on the bus.
"This is about as true of a head-on as you can get," said Officer Mike Jockers, a St. Petersburg police traffic homicide investigator.
The impact was so intense that the Buick was pushed backward 80 feet before coming to rest on the west side of the street in front of a home.
"We thought it was lightning," said neighbor Yolanda Anderson, who was inside her home at the time.
She looked out her window and saw the wreck.
Anderson, a hospice nurse, said she called 911 and ran outside to check on the people in the Buick.
The children were screaming and hollering, she said, and the woman looked dazed.
"I'm just glad everybody was breathing," Anderson said.
Jockers said Thomas' 6-year-old daughter, Caliaha Thomas, suffered critical injuries. Thomas and her 4-year-old son, Leandre Grant, suffered serious injuries. All three were taken to Bayfront Medical Center.
Jockers said Thomas and her children were not wearing seat belts.
Rescuers had to work for about 30 minutes to get the mother out of the Buick because her leg was pinned. Firefighters got her out by ripping off the driver's side door.
As firefighters and police worked at the scene, dozens of people from the neighborhood stood around gawking.
The impact of the crash left the Buick's front smashed like an accordion.
Shanikwa Thomas, who lives about 20 blocks from the crash scene, has a criminal record that includes an arrest in July on charges of cocaine possession, resisting arrest and having an open container of alcohol. She also was arrested in 2007 on a child neglect charge, but prosecutors dropped the case.
On the bus, the driver, Albert M. Ortiz, 27, of St. Petersburg, and one passenger, Donald Seay, 59, also of St. Petersburg, suffered injuries that were not considered life-threatening. They were taken to St. Anthony's Hospital for treatment.
Rescuers said emergency helicopters were called to the scene to fly the most seriously injured to local hospitals, but weren't able to respond because of problems with the weather.
Kameel Stanley can be reached at (727) 893-8643 or firstname.lastname@example.org.