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Three in Dade City family killed in Polk County crash

POLK CITY

Four honks of the car horn made Patrice Davis look over from where she was parked at a stoplight on U.S. 301 Monday afternoon.

There was her neighbor, Justin Sims, with his whole family loaded into his white 1998 Buick Century across the intersection, waving to her.

"Where you going?" she called.

He put his hands up, teasing. "We'll get you next time," he told her.

Davis recalled the encounter Tuesday morning while she sat on a friend's front porch, crumpling a tissue in her hand. "But there won't be a next time."

Sims, 31, was at the wheel late Monday night when the Buick ran a stop sign and collided with the trailer of a 1999 semitrailer truck at State Road 33 and Deen Still Road in Polk City, according to the Polk County Sheriff's Office. On impact, the car was lodged under the trailer and dragged about 400 feet.

Sims, his 28-year-old wife, Sharonda, and their 5-year-old son Savion, were in the front seats of the car, the Sheriff's Office said.

All three were killed.

The couple had three more children in the back seat. Their daughters, Ariel, 7, and Kitty, 2, were both flown to Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando with critical injuries, deputies said. Their 3-month-old daughter, Arienne, was taken to Lakeland Regional Medical Center. Her injuries were not thought to be life-threatening. She is staying with the Department of Children and Families.

Sheriff's spokeswoman Carrie Eleazer said the baby was restrained in her car seat, but none of the other children or parents was wearing a seat belt.

Deputies said the family had been shopping at an outlet mall in Orlando and was on the way back to their home on Acorn Loop in Dade City.

Records show Sims' driver's license was suspended last year for failure to pay traffic fines.

The truck driver, Antonio Garcia, 31, of Tampa was wearing his seat belt. He was not hurt.

No charges are pending, Eleazer said. Investigators are still trying to find exactly what factored into the crash.

They do know that the red flashing light above the stop sign that's meant to alert drivers approaching the intersection was not working Monday night, said Polk Sheriff Grady Judd in a news conference Tuesday. The light was promptly replaced by county traffic workers before the road was reopened.

"Looks like a straight, long road if you're looking past the stop sign," Judd said.

The intersection sits in a remote area of the Green Swamp where fog banks are known to drift overnight. Authorities were looking at whether fog obscured the road at the time of the crash.

• • •

Justin Sims was from New York state. He once served in the U.S. Army's intelligence operations. His father, the Rev. Nathaniel Sims, is a well-known minister in Dade City and pastor at St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church on Seventh Street.

Sharonda Sims was from New Jersey, neighbors said. Last May, the family moved into a section of Dade Oaks Apartments where neighbors watch over one another's children, big meals are shared and the people refer to themselves as a family.

"If anything happens to one of us, it affects all of us," said neighbor Lisa Devermann.

She remembers last year when a custody agreement left her without her children on Mother's Day. Sharonda brought her a butterfly trinket and invited her to a dinner that Justin had cooked on his grill.

His cooking became a staple in the apartments that all face one another surrounding a parking lot, remembers Ethel Gray. Sims made burgers, brisket and ribs and invited neighbors to partake with a simple, "You hungry?"

Neighbors said Sims was known to dote on his wife, especially when she was pregnant with Arienne. Savion, the curious 5-year-old, had questions for everyone on every subject.

"When I say happy spirits," said Tiffany Hammond, who lives in the apartments, "I mean they were truly happy people."

After hearing the news, Sims' father drove to the Orlando hospital to watch over his grandchildren. Tuesday afternoon, Ariel was in surgery. He waited for word on her condition.

He said he'd been to see Kitty, who was "coming along," and expected to recover.

The Ledger contributed to this report. Contact Alex Orlando at aorlando@tampabay.com or (727) 869-6247.

Three in Dade City family killed in Polk County crash 03/11/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 11, 2014 11:12pm]
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