Temple Terrace crash kills two, including 7-year-old girl

She was injured in a Saturday night car crash.
Published May 11 2015
Updated May 13 2015

TEMPLE TERRACE — A 7-year-old girl died after she was thrown from a car Saturday night in a crash that also killed the driver of a pickup.

The accident left Desiree Gilley, who was finishing first grade at Lewis Elementary School, brain dead, clinging to life for hours at Tampa General Hospital before her family decided to take her off life support, said her father, Donald Gilley.

Jeffrey Lamar Wade, 49, the driver of the pickup, died at the scene.

An ongoing police investigation Monday was exploring whether alcohol was a factor in the accident.

"I always wanted a child and now I had it taken away from me," Gilley said Monday, holding back tears. "It's not right. It's not right."

Desiree was a passenger with her three young cousins in a 2002 Nissan Maxima driven by her mother, Lakena L. James, 30.

Temple Terrace city officials issued a news release Monday giving a brief account of the crash.

James was driving north on N 56th Street shortly after 9 p.m. Saturday when she moved to turn west at S Riverhills Drive, according to police. At the same time, Wade was heading south on 56th Street in a 1994 Chevrolet pickup.

The truck and the Maxima collided in the intersection, police said.

"My baby got ejected from the car," Gilley said. "Once she hit the concrete, she was already gone."

When paramedics arrived, they were able to get the girl's heart beating, Gilley said.

She was taken to Florida Hospital Tampa and later flown to Tampa General, where she was placed on life support, he said. She had internal bleeding and her spine was crushed. Doctors told the family she had no brain activity and was unlikely to survive. Hours later, the family made the decision to let her go, Gilley said.

It was an end that no one expected for the girl, whose short life had seen her overcome physical hardship. A disability of her hips made it difficult for her to walk in her younger years, her father said. As a toddler, she endured hours of painful physical therapy to learn to do what comes much easier for most children.

By age 5, she had done it.

"She only had a good life for 2 1/2 years," Gilley said. "She was an angel in anybody's heart."

Wade, who was not wearing a seatbelt, was thrown from his pickup, police said. His family declined to comment Monday.

James and the three other children in the Maxima all suffered varying injuries, including cuts from broken glass and broken bones, Gilley said.

Police did not issue any citations or recommend charges after the accident. The results of toxicology tests were expected to take several weeks.

Wade's state driving history reflects several violations in recent years for driving with a suspended license and failure to pay a traffic fine. James has had several violations of her own, records show, including citations in 2011 and 2014 for failure to have a proper child restraint device.

Fielding calls from friends Monday, Gilley learned that Wade was a loose acquaintance.

His sadness was familiar, he said. Years ago, he lost a cousin in an alcohol-related crash.

But that, he said, wasn't as hard as losing his only daughter.

Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Dan Sullivan at [email protected] or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.