Sunday, November 19, 2017
Public safety

Police investigate death of 7-year-old girl felled by gate in Tampa

RECOMMENDED READING


TAMPA — The 7-year-old girl wasn't moving when four men lifted a massive metal gate off her tiny body Wednesday.

Quincy Ruffin, 37, prayed loudly as he checked the girl's pulse.

It was faint. She appeared to have been knocked out, Ruffin's brother recalled.

Zhanaye Williams died at the hospital, Tampa police say.

The circumstances surrounding the incident remain a mystery. Detectives don't know why the gate fell on top of the little girl, causing her death. Late Wednesday afternoon, they were still investigating whether Zhanaye or any other children had been playing with it — or if someone had pulled it.

They interviewed witnesses: children also headed for the bus stop about 7:20 a.m.

Ronald Hendrie, 52, who lives closest to the gate, said he often saw children messing with it. He'd yell at them to stop.

The gate is the type that automatically opens and closes behind cars, perhaps triggered by a motion sensor.

But Hendrie never saw it work in his four years at the Brookside Apartments, near the intersection of 50th Street and Busch Boulevard.

It appeared broken, he said, hanging on by a single chain.

Tampa Code Enforcement went to the complex Wednesday. The Tampa Fire Marshal's Office is investigating.

Code Enforcement director Jake Slater said the only complaint his office has received about Brookside came March 30, when an anonymous caller reported that one of the gates was locked.

An investigator went to the complex the same day and found all the gates open, Slater said. They closed the case.

Zhanaye (pronounced "Zah-Nay") lived at the complex with her mother and four siblings and was in the second grade at Riverhills Elementary.

She played with neighboring children, often riding a bicycle. Her cousin, Nisha Nash, 19, said the little girl loved swimming and playing outside.

"She's very helpful — all those kids are," Nash said.

On Wednesday, crisis team members talked with Zhanaye's classmates, as well as other Riverhills students and staff affected by her death.

Counselors were encouraging students to express their emotions by writing cards to share with Zhanaye's family.

At Brookside Apartments, several residents fumed about the state of the complex. They pointed to slanted steps on staircases and a dilapidated fence around the pool.

Portions of that fence are held up by wire that resident Tamera Fryer, 40, says her mother installed.

"If the gate is broken, then they should have been fixing the gate," Fryer said.

Employees in the Brookside office declined to comment.

Wednesday afternoon, William Ruffin, 18, stood near the spot where the gate fell, remembering the events of that morning. He was one of the men who helped lift it off Zhanaye.

As others aided the girl, William Ruffin ran to the bus stop to ask the children if they knew the girl or where she lived.

"I had to get her mom," Ruffin said.

When he told Zhanaye's mother, she started crying — but she couldn't get near her daughter, Ruffin said. She stood back and appeared traumatized.

"She didn't break down until the ambulance took the girl away," Ruffin said.

Later, Ruffin learned more about the girl he had tried to save.

"I found out she was 7, and that's what hurt the most," Ruffin said. "Because life's too short."

Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3433.

Comments
Small plane crashes in Clearwater, pilot and passenger uninjured

Small plane crashes in Clearwater, pilot and passenger uninjured

CLEARWATER — Deputies are investigating a small plane crash Sunday morning near the intersection of Sunset Point Road and Keene Road. A pilot and passenger were uninjured in the accident, which happened at 10:23 a.m., according to the Pinellas County...
Updated: 1 hour ago
On the night shift in Seminole Heights, Tampa police keep watch for a killer

On the night shift in Seminole Heights, Tampa police keep watch for a killer

TAMPATampa Police Lt. Gary Neal is almost halfway into his shift when the shots ring out.He jumps into his white 2016 Dodge Charger and races the few blocks from District 3 headquarters to the scene of a drive-by shooting in a city rattled by a strin...
Published: 11/18/17
Tampa couple recounts wrong-way DUI crash on Courtney Campbell Causeway

Tampa couple recounts wrong-way DUI crash on Courtney Campbell Causeway

TAMPA — Police arrested a 26-year-old man they say drove the wrong way while drunk and caused a multi-vehicle crash that injured several people late Friday on the Courtney Campbell Causeway.Collin John Cole faces two counts of driving under the influ...
Published: 11/18/17
Boater missing in waters north of Bradenton, dog found alive

Boater missing in waters north of Bradenton, dog found alive

CORTEZ — The Coast Guard and others are scouring the waters near Mead Point, just inland from Anna Maria Island, for a 63-year-old boater who has been missing since Friday evening. Fraser Horne of Cortez left Egmont Key on his 30-foot boat, Golden Ru...
Published: 11/18/17
Romano: Hunting for a deadly needle in the Seminole Heights haystack

Romano: Hunting for a deadly needle in the Seminole Heights haystack

During the day, you hear from the psychics and the kooks. The well-intentioned tipsters, and the unsolicited profilers. This is all part of serial killer spillover, a sort of cottage industry of macabre.It gets tougher at night when you’re hounded by...
Published: 11/17/17
Updated: 11/18/17

Possible wrong-way crash on Courtney Campbell Causeway late Friday

TAMPA — A multi-vehicle crash on the Courtney Campbell Causeway late Friday may have been caused by a driver traveling in the wrong direction, Tampa police said.The crash occurred in the eastbound lanes closer to the Tampa side of the causeway, near ...
Published: 11/17/17
Updated: 11/18/17
Tampa police investigate drive-by shooting in Seminole Heights

Tampa police investigate drive-by shooting in Seminole Heights

TAMPA — Police took one person into custody late Friday after a drive-by shooting ended in Seminole Heights.The incident, which unfolded about 11 p.m., did not appear to be related to the spate of other recent shootings in Seminole Heights that have ...
Published: 11/17/17
Updated: 11/18/17

Man hit, killed while crossing U.S. 19 in Palm Harbor

PALM HARBOR — A pedestrian died after he was hit by a vehicle Friday night, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.The man, who was not identified, was crossing U.S. 19 from west to east, north of Tampa Road in Palm Harbor about 8:30 p.m., troopers ...
Published: 11/17/17
19 digital billboards now spread word of reward in Seminole Heights killings

19 digital billboards now spread word of reward in Seminole Heights killings

TAMPA — To help spread the word about reward money offered in connection with four unsolved shooting deaths in Seminole Heights, two billboard companies have donated the use of a combined 19 digital billboards.On Thursday, police announced the reward...
Published: 11/17/17

Deputies: No injuries after reported gunshot near Seminole schools

SEMINOLE — Deputies are investigating a report of a gunshot that resulted in two schools being put on lockdown Friday morning. About 8:24 a.m., the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office received a call at Rita’s Italian Ice, 13147 86th Ave., in Seminole. ...
Published: 11/17/17