Thursday, April 26, 2018
Public safety

Girls hit near Middleton High came from Honduras to find better life

TAMPA — Ever since sisters Victoria and Norma Velasquez-Cabrera came to the United States from their native Honduras with their mother last year, they worked hard in pursuit of their respective dreams.

Victoria, 14, wants to become a dentist. Norma, 15, wants to travel the country, seeing big cities and places like Disney World.

The sisters were learning English. They were studying hard at Middleton High School. They were making the best of life in their new home after their mother, Victoria Velasquez, sought to escape violence in their native country.

On Wednesday, she sat waiting in Tampa General Hospital. The girls were both badly injured Tuesday when they were hit by a car on their way to school.

"I don't understand why this happened to us," said their uncle, Mauricio Gutierrez. "The girls don't deserve this."

As Victoria underwent surgery for a broken arm, Norma lay unconscious, clinging to life.

"The doctors say there is nothing else they can do," Gutierrez said. "Her brain is not responding."

The teens were walking just north of Middleton High about 7:15 a.m. Tuesday when they tried to cross in the 2500 block of Hillsborough Avenue. It was still dark, with the sun yet to break the horizon, police said. They wore dark clothing and were not in a marked crosswalk.

When they stepped into the street, a car stopped in the middle of the three lanes to let them pass, police said. Another car approached in the far lane.

The driver of the second car, 17-year-old Deja Johnson, on her way to Hillsborough High School, didn't see the girls; the dim lighting and the other car blocked her view, police said.

As the family prayed for a miracle Wednesday, they lashed out in anger at authorities who said they don't anticipate filing charges in the crash. Police said a preliminary investigation shows the driver did nothing wrong.

"It's a tragic accident," said Tampa police spokeswoman Andrea Davis.

Still, the family demanded further action to prevent similar tragedies.

"It's not a safe street." Gutierrez said. "How many more victims do we have to wait for?"

Four Middleton High students have been hit by cars in 2 ½ years, said principal Owen Young. That includes Shenika Davis, a 15-year-old who was killed in October 2011 as she, too, walked to Middleton outside a crosswalk in the darkness.

The crashes are unacceptable, Young said. So on Wednesday, every Middleton student attended a 30-minute pedestrian safety presentation.

The school invited Jason Jackman, from the University of South Florida's Center for Urban Transportation Research, to give his "Walk Wise" talk. The first group of freshmen and seniors noisily entered the school auditorium. They hushed when Young mentioned Tuesday's tragedy.

The tips seemed basic: Wear bright clothes, walk at crosswalks, be alert, look both ways — then look again.

Officials hope it makes a difference. Just one day after the two sisters were hit, Young said he saw students jaywalking across Hillsborough Avenue.

"I know you want to save time," he said, "but this is important."

Times staff writer Jessica Vander Velde contributed to this report.

   
Comments
Suspect identified in string of carjackings from Orlando to Plant City

Suspect identified in string of carjackings from Orlando to Plant City

PLANT CITY — The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office has identified the suspect in a string of carjackings from Orlando to Plant City.Deputies are searching for Majar L. Jones, 43, of Orlando.Jones may still be in a stolen 2002 green Ford F-150 with...
Updated: 16 minutes ago
Long wait at Wingstop ends in brawl, hot oil and 2nd degree burns

Long wait at Wingstop ends in brawl, hot oil and 2nd degree burns

TAMPA — A customer visited Wingstop on Sunday night to pick-up his order. What happened next was off-menu:Robert Williams said he suffered second-degree burns on his back and legs after a Wingstop employee threw hot oil on him during a scuffle.Willia...
Updated: 8 hours ago
FHP identifies driver in crash that killed

FHP identifies driver in crash that killed "smiling" teen

TRINITY — Friends said what they’ll remember the most about Lillia Morris is that she was always smiling.The 17-year-old Mitchell High School junior was killed Tuesday when a sport-utility vehicle ran a red light on State Road 54 and slammed into the...
Updated: 9 hours ago
For senior week, Lakewood High School must mourn a senior

For senior week, Lakewood High School must mourn a senior

ST. PETERSBURG — Lakewood High School principal Erin Savage has never planned a candlelight vigil. But this week, Savage must learn how to do so as her school mourns the tragic death of one of its graduating seniors.Bryson Welton-Williams, 18, died T...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Pasco corporal who took down student on video now cleared (w/video)

Pasco corporal who took down student on video now cleared (w/video)

LAND O’LAKES — Kayla Peña filled up her water bottle then returned to her lunch table at Sunlake High School when she heard a commotion in the cafeteria on Tuesday afternoon.A female student was riled up, walking back and forth, Peña said, screaming ...
Updated: 11 hours ago

Man on Clearwater Beach pulled from water, hospitalized

CLEARWATER — A 33-year-old man pulled from the water north of Pier 60 was hospitalized Wednesday afternoon.Clearwater Fire & Rescue spokesman Rob Shaw said a bystander noticed the Dunedin man, who has not been identified, was in trouble and brought h...
Published: 04/25/18
State Road 54 closed after state trooper injured in crash

State Road 54 closed after state trooper injured in crash

WESLEY CHAPEL — A motorist suffered a medical emergency and crashed into six cars at a Wesley Chapel traffic light Wednesday, injuring a trooper, the Florida Highway Patrol said.The trooper, whose injuries were not life threatening, was airlifted to ...
Published: 04/25/18
Orlando armed carjacking suspect on the run in Hillsborough, authorities say

Orlando armed carjacking suspect on the run in Hillsborough, authorities say

PLANT CITY — Multiple law enforcement agencies are searching for an armed man responsible for a string of Wednesday morning carjackings, including one that involved gunfire, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.Authorities described ...
Published: 04/25/18
Trinity teen killed in crash remembered as ‘positive’ and ‘smiling’

Trinity teen killed in crash remembered as ‘positive’ and ‘smiling’

TRINITY — Friends said they will remember Lillia Morris, who was killed Tuesday in a car crash, as always smiling.Morris, 17, was killed after a 2008 Chevrolet SUV ran a red light and slammed into her car at State Road 54 and Duck Slough Boulevard.Ka...
Published: 04/25/18
Man, teen face murder charges in Clearwater shooting

Man, teen face murder charges in Clearwater shooting

CLEARWATER — A man and teen face first-degree murder charges in connection with an apparent drug-related fatal shooting last week.Police say Daniel Curtis Battle, 28, and Malique Devon Gary, 17, shot Ricardo Guzman four times on Friday at Melrose on ...
Published: 04/25/18