Friday, February 23, 2018
Public safety

Pepin Academy student slid to his death, surveillance footage shows

TEMPLE TERRACE — The rain stopped about 8:30 p.m. Friday, so lifeguards reopened the city pool for the private party held by Pepin Academy, a charter school for children with learning-related disabilities.

A DJ played music. Nearly 150 people either splashed in the pool or relaxed beside it. And 15-year-old Jessie Shillingford, a sophomore with a mild case of autism who played the xylophone and danced in church aisles, climbed a slide and careened into the deep end.

He struggled after he hit the water, as he tried to paddle toward the wall. Two minutes later, a surveillance camera later showed, he sank.

Nobody realized Jessie was underwater until five minutes later, when another child saw his body on the pool bottom, 12 feet below, according to Temple Terrace police and the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner's Office.

Jessie remained on life support at Florida Hospital until Tuesday morning. In its initial findings, the Medical Examiner's Office ruled the drowning death an accident. Police say they found no evidence of a crime — no foul play or criminal negligence — and closed their case.

"He looks like he's just playing in the pool, like everybody else," said Michael Dunn, spokesman for the police, which reviewed the surveillance footage.

Jessie's parents, Lucille and Skelford Shillingford, said Wednesday that Jessie did not know how to swim. They were not at the pool party but said they felt comfortable because they say the school also knew he couldn't swim. They said he'd been at pools before and had always stayed in the shallow end.

The Shillingfords — he's a school custodian and she's an office worker — declined to speak in detail about their son's death, saying they were seeking legal advice. In addition to autism, he'd been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to the medical examiner's report.

Pepin Academy's public relations director, Crisha Scolaro, declined to comment on the incident.

Three lifeguards were on duty Friday and tried to revive Jessie after recovering his body, said Dunn.

Jessie's family describes him as a teenager who was bored by nothing — not his algebra class, not church, not even his morning routine catching the bus to Pepin. He had completed a training program on using Hills­borough Transit Authority's bus system. His framed certificate hangs on the wall of his family's home.

He rose before 5 o'clock on weekdays. He toasted a Pop-Tart, traipsed around the house, then walked to a bus stop on 78th Street. He sat in his seat, hands and thoughts to himself. He got off at a downtown stop and waited for his transfer. If it hadn't arrived, he'd pull out his cellphone.

"He'd say, 'Mom, this is Jessie,' " Lucille Shillingford recalled Wednesday. " 'The bus is not here. It's not here. Wait, it's here.' "

He was making A's at Pepin, which he had attended for two years, and his family said he wanted to be a doctor. On school days, Jessie came home from school, ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and tackled his homework, his family said. He kneeled by his bed and used the mattress as his desk.

Over at New Testament Worship Center, a nondenominational church in East Tampa, Jessie insisted on sitting in the second or third row every Sunday, next to his parents and his 17-year-old sister, Amy, said Pastor Deborah Comellas. He jumped and clapped and danced when the church band played.

Comellas said that she could tell Jessie had some level of disability but that she never knew he was autistic until after his death.

"That young man, he lit up the room," Comellas said. "He was just so conscious of the presence of the Lord, and unconscious of the people around him."

Comments
Restricting bullets rather than guns might cut toll of school shootings, some experts say

Restricting bullets rather than guns might cut toll of school shootings, some experts say

This is the sad new math in the age of school slaughter.If one student comes to school with a firearm and 10 ammunition magazines filled with 30 bullets each, and another comes with a firearm and 30 magazines filled with 10 bullets each, who can crea...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Sheriff: Small plane goes down in Zephyrhills

Sheriff: Small plane goes down in Zephyrhills

ZEPHYHRHILLS — A small aircraft crashed along Old Lakeland Highway on Friday afternoon, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.Deputies believe the plane was a two-seater.No other information was available about the incident, including the id...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Tampa judge sentences man to 330 years after repeat trips to the Philippines to have sex with children and make child porn

Tampa judge sentences man to 330 years after repeat trips to the Philippines to have sex with children and make child porn

TAMPA — A Venice man convicted of producing child pornography and regularly traveling to the Philippines to have sex with children was sentenced Friday to spend 330 years in federal prison. In October, a federal jury found David Paul Lynch, 56, guilt...
Updated: 10 hours ago

School District demands students leave backpacks at home due to threats

Middle school and high school students across Manatee County have been asked to leave their backpacks at home Friday in response to "an excessive number of threats."The Manatee County School District announced its decision through telephone calls and...
Published: 02/23/18
Video shows Brandon car chase ending as driver’s dog barks at deputies

Video shows Brandon car chase ending as driver’s dog barks at deputies

BRANDON — After leading deputies on a wild car chase over roads, sidewalks and yards, a driver faces charges including attempting to elude law enforcement.No legal action was taken against a passenger, though — a dog riding with him who popped from t...
Published: 02/22/18
Updated: 02/23/18
Police: Person found inside van in Walmart parking lot an apparent suicide victim

Police: Person found inside van in Walmart parking lot an apparent suicide victim

TARPON SPRINGS — Police have determined that a person found in a van at a Walmart parking lot on Thursday had died of an apparent suicide.Police investigated the death after the body was found Thursday afternoon in a van at a Walmart parking lot.The ...
Published: 02/22/18
Updated: 02/23/18
Deputy ‘never went in’ during Parkland school shooting. There were other failures, too

Deputy ‘never went in’ during Parkland school shooting. There were other failures, too

Eight days after mass shooter Nikolas Cruz murdered 17 people inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Broward’s top cop on Thursday revealed a stunning series of failures by the sheriff’s department.A school campus cop heard the gunfire, rushed ...
Published: 02/22/18
Florida man yells ‘murderers!’ as he’s executed for slaying

Florida man yells ‘murderers!’ as he’s executed for slaying

Associated PressSTARKE — An inmate convicted of raping and killing a college student decades ago screamed and yelled "murderers!" three times, thrashing on a gurney as he was being put to death Thursday. The governor’s office said Eric Scott Branch, ...
Published: 02/22/18
Polk deputies seek Pinellas man accused of pushing woman from speeding car

Polk deputies seek Pinellas man accused of pushing woman from speeding car

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office said an arrest warrant was issued for a Pinellas County man accused of beating and pushing a woman from a speeding car.The incident took place on Feb. 17, the Sheriff’s Office said. Remond Brown II, 26, was traveling ...
Published: 02/22/18
Dunedin man seriously injured in motorcycle crash

Dunedin man seriously injured in motorcycle crash

OLDSMAR — A 37-year-old Dunedin man was seriously injured in a high-speed motorcycle crash early Thursday morning, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.Deputies said Justin Kaune was riding southbound on Bayside Boulevard around 2:30 a.m...
Published: 02/22/18