Saturday, May 26, 2018
Public safety

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

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

Police investigating shooting outside nightclub

ST. PETERSBURG — Police are investigating a fatal shooting that occurred outside a south St. Petersburg nightclub early Saturday morning.Brennan-Aire D. Williams, 28, was pronounced dead shortly after arriving by cab at Bayfront Health. Police invest...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Hernando officials seize 36 neglected dogs from sanctuary

Hernando officials seize 36 neglected dogs from sanctuary

WEEKI WACHEE — A woman who runs an animal sanctuary will face dozens of animal cruelty charges after Hernando County animal enforcement officers said they found dogs, equine, pigs, cats and chickens housed in poor conditions on her property.Animal of...
Published: 05/26/18
Quick action to slow traffic on Bayshore prompts call to do more citywide

Quick action to slow traffic on Bayshore prompts call to do more citywide

TAMPA — As city workers set up signs Friday establishing a lower speed limit on Bayshore Boulevard, neighborhood residents and transportation activists urged more steps to improve safety for pedestrians all across the city.The move is a good beginnin...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Police: Driver in fatal Bayshore faces new charge in child’s death

Police: Driver in fatal Bayshore faces new charge in child’s death

The 18-year-old who was arrested this week after police said he was racing when he fatally struck a young mother pushing her stroller across Bayshore Boulevard was back in jail on Friday night.Cameron Herrin, 18, was arrested on a second count of veh...
Published: 05/25/18
Five members of 69ers motorcycle gang indicted on federal charges

Five members of 69ers motorcycle gang indicted on federal charges

Last year three members of the 69ers Motorcycle Club gang were implicated in the execution of a rival gang leader in the middle of rush hour traffic in Pasco County.Now those three and two other 69ers members have been indicted on federal charges tha...
Published: 05/25/18

Raccoon bites bicyclist, now the Health Department is looking for the victim

TAMPA — A bicyclist in the Palm River area was bitten by a raccoon Friday morning, the Florida Department of Health in Hillsborough County said.Now the department is concerned the animal had rabies and is searching for the bicyclist."While it is impo...
Published: 05/25/18

Police: Baby not abandoned; mother surrendered infant

TAMPA — A newborn baby initially thought to be found on the ground near a trash can in north Tampa was not abandoned, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office said Friday.The child’s mother gave birth to the boy Thursday, and she and someone else too...
Published: 05/25/18
Student says science teacher tackled Indiana school shooter

Student says science teacher tackled Indiana school shooter

NOBLESVILLE, Ind. — A male student opened fire at a suburban Indianapolis middle school Friday morning, wounding another student and a teacher before being taken into custody, authorities said. Seventh-grader Ethan Stonebraker said the science teache...
Published: 05/25/18

Woman, dog die trying to cross U.S. 19 in Hudson

PORT RICHEY— An unidentified 45-year-old Colorado woman and her dog died early Friday morning when they walked into the path of two vehicles on U.S. 19, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.The woman was walking her dog around 5:40 a.m. across U.S...
Published: 05/25/18
A ‘coupon conundrum’ at a Largo Burger King landed him in jail

A ‘coupon conundrum’ at a Largo Burger King landed him in jail

LARGO— A flap over coupons led a Clearwater man to grab a Burger King employee and yank her over the counter, leading to his arrest, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.Miguel Latorre, 23, was trying to use several coupons to buy a Whop...
Published: 05/25/18