Friday, November 17, 2017
Public safety

Third woman dies before crash vigil in St. Petersburg

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Thursday night, after his bath, the family struggled to tell a 5-year-old his mother would not be there to put him to bed. Friday morning the family met for a breakfast of grits, eggs and fish. A doctor's call interrupted, and they drove to the hospital to say goodbye.

Machines had kept Grace Collier, 25, alive since early Thursday after a car smashed into her and her two nieces, Briana Lequinda Campbell, 23, and Jamesia Chera Santoria, 21, as they left a nightclub in their car. Campbell and Santoria died in the fiery wreckage.

At the hospital, a doctor said Collier's brain recorded no activity, her kidneys had failed, and a tangle of tubes breathed for her. She was pronounced dead at 1:47 p.m. That meant two more children to be told their mom had died, one more cross for the vigil later Friday.

"We still haven't talked about who will take the kids," said Reginald Campbell, Briana Campbell's uncle. "We can give them everything in the world, but nothing will feel like a mother's hug."

Police said Friday evening that Marquice L. Anderson, 27, of St. Petersburg, drove the Chrysler that killed the women in a Saturn on the corner of 16th Street and Ninth Avenue S. Anderson has numerous arrests on drug charges, and was on probation at the time. Police were still looking for him late Friday.

"How can you hit someone and keep going and not acknowledge what you've done, and not even check that they're okay?" lamented the women's cousin, Sade Campbell. "I just feel like he's heartless."

The women had just left Club 1 South, a downtown night club, and so had Kendall Malcolm, who became an unwitting witness. Malcolm was driving on 16th Street after the club closed when a Chrysler raced past him headed south in the wrong lane.

Malcolm turned to his friend: "Those people are going to kill somebody."

Seconds later, the two saw smoke.

A woman's arms stuck out the window. And three men labored to pull her from the back window of the Saturn.

"I'm not sure if they were the driver of the other car or what," he said, "but I just know we kept hearing a guy saying 'You're gonna get fingerprints.' "

A crowd had gathered. The fire in the Saturn started small, but as it grew the three men backed up, blended with the crowd, and then they were gone.

Campbell and Santoria had been trapped in the car. They died at the scene. Collier was found 15 feet away. She had severe burns to her lower body and had internal injuries. Rescuers rushed her to Tampa General Hospital in critical condition.

Malcolm and his friend left shortly after firefighters arrived.

Police say the Chrysler smashed into the women as they turned into a parking lot near the intersection.

The Chrysler's driver has not been found. The car was empty when police arrived, with both the driver and passenger airbags deployed.

Police said the Chrysler's owner, a woman, was cooperating with investigators and had provided them with information about the last person to drive her car.

Thursday night was planned as a girls' night out, family said. All three worked hard to support their children.

Campbell worked as a dietary aide in a nursing home; Collier as a hairdresser; and Santoria worked at JCPenney and Wendy's, and studied at St. Petersburg College.

Santoria's son is 5. Collier's children are 2 and 6. Campbell has a 1-year-old son and 3-year-old twins, a boy and a girl.

"We still think it's a nightmare," Sade Campbell said, "like we'll wake up, and they'll pop up and it's all okay."

The family said the children were cheerful and playful Friday because they don't understand their mothers have died. While they told Santoria's 5-year-old son — although they doubt he understood — they planned to wait to tell the younger children.

At a vigil for the mothers Friday night, about 150 people gathered. All friends, the family said.

They passed plastic buckets for donations. A local DJ played a track of somber hits as some chose to cry in frustration and pain on the corner where the women died. Others danced a slow shuffle. A man hammered into the ground three white crosses. He stood back. And as the wind began to blow gray clouds to the street corner, the family knelt.

Contact Weston Phippen at [email protected] or (727) 893-8321. Follow @westonphippen.

     
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