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Parents struggle with death of 4-year-old daughter

Bobby Stalter is comforted by his wife, Brandi, at their Shady Hills home on Wednesday. The Stalters’ daughter, Haleigh, 4, was killed in a crash Tuesday.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Bobby Stalter is comforted by his wife, Brandi, at their Shady Hills home on Wednesday. The Stalters’ daughter, Haleigh, 4, was killed in a crash Tuesday.

MASARYKTOWN — Brandi and Robert Stalter handled the mundane paperwork of registering at the hospital with anticipation Tuesday morning. In a few short hours, the young couple would be adding a third daughter to their family.

Roughly 50 feet away, at the emergency entrance to Spring Hill Regional Hospital, sirens wailed as an ambulance arrived bearing a young girl who had just been critically injured in a devastating car crash.

Moments later, a nurse asked Brandi to take a walk with her.

The girl in the ambulance was Brandi's 4-year-old daughter, Haleigh, and she had succumbed to her injuries. Her other daughter, Laura Lee, 2, was banged up but alive.

"I was screaming to (the doctors) that they were wrong,'' Brandi said. "I was screaming at them to let me go so I could help her.'' She said she slumped to the floor and was helped to a wheelchair.

On Wednesday, the Stalters struggled to grasp the cruel twist that life had just thrown their way. They had expected to spend the day welcoming their new baby, whom they plan to name Bobbileigh Armeda Stalter, following a scheduled caesarian section. Instead, they were at a funeral home arranging to bury Haleigh.

"She was my angel," Brandi said. "She wanted to be everything when she grew up — a ballerina, a model, a singer a dancer, she loved attention and she was very talented."

All through the night Tuesday, Laura Lee kept asking her mother, "Where's Sissy?," her pet name for Haleigh.

Her parents have no answers, just questions themselves.

The Stalters, surrounded by family members at Brandi's grandmother's home Wednesday afternoon, want to know if the tragic accident could have been avoided.

The Florida Highway Patrol reported that shortly after 8 a.m. Tuesday, a 1998 Ford Crown Victoria carrying the girls plus family friend Susan Eggers, 46, and her 17-year-old son, Adam, was crushed from behind by a dump truck on U.S. 41.

Someone else was supposed to watch the girls that day, and Eggers volunteered to babysit. She had just picked up the girls and was waiting to turn left off the highway onto Palacky Street, heading toward her home when the 2006 Mack truck slammed into the car.

The impact pushed the car about 40 feet before it came to rest on the roadside. Neither Eggers nor her son were wearing seat belts. The girls were wearing seat belts, but neither was strapped into car seats as required by law.

Eggers was airlifted to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa where she was being treated Wednesday for a collapsed lung and broken ribs. Adam Eggers and Laura Lee Stalter were treated for minor injuries at Spring Hill Regional.

The grieving couple wonder why there were no skid marks in the road, an indication that the dump truck driver, Francisco Heredia Hernandez, apparently never put on his brakes or try to avoid Eggers' car. They also wonder why no one from Pacheco Enterprises, the company that owns the truck Hernandez was driving, has called them.

"It's a matter of simple respect," said Robert Stalter. "Their driver made a mistake that cost our daughter her life."

No one from Pacheco Enterprises has returned calls made to the company Wednesday. FHP spokesman Sgt. Steve Gaskins said that Hernandez, 46, was unhurt and had submitted to a blood test at the accident scene. Charges are pending on completion of an accident investigation.

The family has set Haleigh's funeral for 11 a.m. Saturday at Spring Hill Calvary Church of the Nazarene on Cobblestone Drive in Spring Hill.

Bobbileigh is now scheduled to be delivered on Tuesday.

Sometime after that, the Stalters will go ahead with their planned move to Orlando, where Robert, 25, has found a job in construction.

"This is one of those times where you just wish you could go back and do things differently,'' Brandi said. "The trouble is, you can't."

Logan Neill can be reached at lneill@sptimes.com or 848-1435.

Parents struggle with death of 4-year-old daughter 09/10/08 [Last modified: Monday, September 15, 2008 2:35pm]
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