TAMPA — When Olga Valentin learned the baby growing inside her had Down syndrome, she cried and cried.
Soon, though, the 27-year-old came to regard little Nevaeh Pierce, born Oct. 1, as a blessing.
"She felt that God gave her this baby for a reason," said Valentin's sister, Sheila Mendez.
Early Monday, as Valentin drove across Hillsborough County to show off 6-month-old Nevaeh to a friend, she lost control of her car.
It flipped several times on State Road 60, near U.S. 301, threw her from it and landed atop her. Valentin died.
The baby was left with only scratches. Nevaeh had been buckled into a child safety seat in the back, authorities said — but Valentin had neglected to wear her own seat belt.
The infant is now with her father's sister in Mulberry.
That's because the father, 39-year-old Vidall Pierce, who is registered sex offender, is in the Pinellas County Jail facing charges of violating his probation on previous drug and bad check counts.
He called Valentin's family on Tuesday to say he hopes to care for the baby when he gets out of jail, Mendez said.
On Tuesday, family and friends gathered at the Tampa home of Valentin's mother and shared memories of an outgoing woman who seemed fearless.
She'd happily try anything once, whether it was water skiing or ice skating, Mendez said.
Valentin had attended Chamberlain High School and was living in Mulberry in Polk County.
She has two other young children — a girl and boy, who live with their father in Orlando.
At age 19, Mendez is Valentin's youngest sister. There is another sister and a brother.
"I loved my sister," Mendez said Tuesday. "We had just started getting close and spending time together."
They'd go swimming and visiting parks. When Mendez learned her big sister was pregnant again, she was so excited.
"It just brought so much joy to our lives," she said.
The family isn't sure why Valentin lost control of her car. Maybe it was bad judgment, maybe a fluke accident.
But they are sure of one thing, Mendez said. They plan to stay in baby Nevaeh's life, wherever she ends up living.
"Nevaeh is just like her mom: very outgoing," Mendez said. "She loves to talk, even though she can't really say words. She just likes you to hear her vocal cords."
Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3433.