TAMPA — When she heard the news, Donna Embry screamed and clutched her chest. The tears wouldn't stop.
The family of nine that lived across the street on 129th Avenue had been in an accident early Saturday. The mother, Shakia Peterson, who was nine months pregnant, died at the scene. Her unborn baby could not be saved.
The driver, her husband Freddie James, 45, and seven children were injured and taken to area hospitals. Some were in critical condition; one would later die.
"It's so horrible," Embry, 63, said Saturday afternoon. "They were great people. They were quiet. … They were just so pleasant."
Peterson, 35, was a front passenger in the family's 2003 Ford Expedition traveling on Interstate 75 near U.S. 301 in Ellenton, officials said. At 7:35 a.m., the car's left rear tire blew, and James lost control. The car flipped and overturned, ejecting three of the occupants.
Troopers said Peterson, James and one of the children, Jamkia Dawkins, 15, were wearing seat belts. The other six children were not.
Roderick James, 14, died of severe head trauma at the Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg, said Manatee County public safety Capt. Larry Leinhauser. Another child, Lakia Dawkins, 12, also was taken to Bayfront in critical condition.
James and the other children — Jamkia Dawkins, Fredquanda James, 10, Caprice Dawkins, 10, Martavius Dawkins, 16, and Jerome Dawkins, 17 — were released from Manatee Memorial Hospital at noon, according to a hospital employee.
The crash was still under investigation late Saturday.
Embry said the family moved into her North Tampa neighborhood less than two years ago. The children were stepsiblings, Embry said. They were friendly but mostly kept to themselves.
Sixteen-year-old Martavius Dawkins was the exception. Everyone knows him as Mark, Embry said.
Flashing a broad, happy smile, he was always ready to talk to any neighbor who would listen. He would help carry their groceries. A devout Christian, he would often talk about God and his faith, said Embry's husband, P.G.
Another neighbor, Fernando Gonzalez, said Mark would sometimes visit him three or four times a week, simply saying hello, chatting or helping paint his fence.
Gonzalez, 65, was painting the same fence Saturday afternoon when he heard of the accident.
"He's a great kid. He likes to help everybody," Gonzalez said. "This is really bad news."
Donna Embry wishes she had done more.
"My biggest regret is not walking across the street, welcoming them to the neighborhood," she said. "This will teach me a lesson to reach out more."
Nandini Jayakrishna can be reached at (813) 226-3383 or [email protected]