Saturday, December 16, 2017
Public safety

Victims identified in fiery hit-and-run crash in St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG — The women's family sat on the porch and in lawn chairs, saying little as they offered quiet embraces to the stream of somber new arrivals. A half-dozen children darted around the fenced-in yard and tossed a rainbow-colored beach ball. Beneath the still-sticky shade of palm and oak, mourners gathered to share pictures and tell stories and to laugh and curse and question.

Even on a summer day devoid of such grief, even if the women were still alive, the scene on 23rd Avenue S might have looked just as it did on Thursday afternoon, because the Campbells never stayed apart for long.

Around 3 that morning, two of their members — cousins Briana Lequinda Campbell, 23, of Gulfport, and Jamesia Chera Santoria, 21, of St. Petersburg — had died after a Chrysler speeding south in the northbound lanes of 16th Street struck their Saturn, which then burst into flames. The women's aunt, Grace LaShawn Collier, 25, was found about 15 feet from the burning car. Emergency responders airlifted her to Tampa General Hospital with internal injuries and severe burns to her lower body. She underwent surgery early Thursday and was listed in critical condition.

The women — who were all young, single mothers — were turning into a parking lot near Ninth Avenue when the crash occurred, police said. Investigators found the Chrysler empty, its driver- and passenger-side air bags deployed.

The driver fled and had not been found as of late Thursday night. 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.

Investigators believe its occupants may have just left Club 1 South, a bar that, on its Facebook page, advertised Wednesday as "The People's Party," with free admission until 1 a.m. and double drink specials.

The women, their family said, had also gone to the club as part of a girl's night out.

The trio grew up together and seldom spent time apart.

"Every time you saw one," said cousin Sade Campbell, "you saw all three."

Together, they shopped, beached, swam, partied, danced and fought. They told jokes often and laughed easily. Strangers thought the women were sisters.

Campbell and Collier were most alike. They spoke with their hands up and their voices loud, usually at the party's center. Santoria was more quiet, unless she had reason to be otherwise.

The Campbell family, dozens of them, had gathered last at a cookout two weeks ago. They teased Campbell because her shorts were tight, Santoria because she danced too hard and Collier because, in her pink shirt and matching skirt, she insisted on being the best dressed.

Feelings seldom turned hard, though. The family always teased those they loved.

They had all planned to gather again July 3 at Hollywood Nights South in St. Petersburg, for Campbell's 24th birthday.

Campbell had talked about it every day in recent weeks, asking family to help her find a purse to match her new six-inch, red-and-gold high-heels that, on Thursday, remained inside a shoebox at her home. She had looked forward to how tall they would make her look.

The women shared a passion for fun but what bonded them most were their children.

Collier's sons are 2 and 6.

Santoria's son is 5.

Campbell's youngest son is 1, and her twins, a boy and girl, are 3.

They all worked long hours to support their kids, Campbell as a dietary aide at a nursing home, Collier as a hairdresser and Santoria at J. C. Penney and Wendy's.

Group trips to swimming pools, parks, beaches and Chuck E. Cheese's were weekly activities.

As Thursday afternoon waned, Sade Campbell considered the inevitable as she watched the kids playing in the yard.

"How do you tell the children," she said, "that their mothers are dead?"

Standing in the picket fence's open doorway, Campbell's oldest son, who didn't know why his mother wasn't with him, held the rainbow beach ball in his arms and stared at the strangers with TV cameras talking to his family.

John Woodrow Cox can be reached at [email protected]

Pinellas sheriff’s investigator fired, could face criminal charges for involvement in child custody battle

Pinellas sheriff’s investigator fired, could face criminal charges for involvement in child custody battle

LARGO — A Pinellas sheriff’s child protective investigator has been fired and could face criminal charges after an investigation found she made a child custody recommendation to a judge as a favor to a friend.Jayne Johnson, who has worked for the She...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Deputies: Plant City men fled in stolen car, shot dog, hid in swamp

Deputies: Plant City men fled in stolen car, shot dog, hid in swamp

DOVER — Two Plant City men who ran from deputies and shot a dog were captured after a brief pursuit Thursday, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.They ditched a stolen car, ran away on foot, crossed through several yards and then tr...
Updated: 12 hours ago

Tampa bicyclist, 52, dies after being rear-ended by vehicle; no charges

TAMPA — A 52-year-old man riding a bicycle was killed early Friday when he was struck from behind by a car in Seminole Heights, according to Tampa police.The incident took place at about 12:15 a.m. Wayne Kersh, 52, was riding his bicycle in the eastb...
Published: 12/15/17
After third fire at former Ybor City bathhouse, arrest is made

After third fire at former Ybor City bathhouse, arrest is made

TAMPA — A 46-year-old man was arrested Friday and accused of setting fire to a vacant Ybor City bathhouse hit by arson at least two other times earlier this year.Two Tampa police officers spotted smoke from the vacant building at 1512 E Eighth Ave. a...
Published: 12/15/17

FHP: Overturned pick-up slowed traffic on northbound Howard Frankland

ST. PETERSBURG — A pick-up truck towing a car onto the northbound Howard Frankland Bridge overturned and crashed on the shoulder, causing back-ups for motorists trying to get to Tampa, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.The incident was reported...
Published: 12/15/17
New video shows cows beaten and burned at Florida dairy farm

New video shows cows beaten and burned at Florida dairy farm

The Miami Beach-based Animal Recovery Mission has released a video from its undercover abuse investigation at a Central Florida dairy farmThe graphic video, with disturbing images of cows cruelly being beaten, speared, stabbed and burned, was shot by...
Published: 12/15/17

Missing Child Alert canceled for Port St. Lucie girl, 17

A Florida Missing Child Alert has been canceled for a 17-year-old Port St. Lucie girl who was last seen on Thursday.The case involving Heaven Flores has been resolved, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Published: 12/15/17

Hudson pedestrian killed while crossing U.S. 19

HUDSON — A Hudson man was killed Thursday night while crossing U.S. 19.According to the Florida Highway Patrol, 59-year-old Gerald Berube was crossing the northbound lanes of U.S. 19 north of Stahl Drive around 6:40 p.m. when he walked into the path ...
Published: 12/15/17
Tampa police seek ‘person of interest’ in Dec. 3 homicide

Tampa police seek ‘person of interest’ in Dec. 3 homicide

TAMPA — Police are seeking a "person of interest" who they believe has information about a Dec. 3 drive-by shooting that killed a 22-year-old man.Police are searching for Anan Motilal, 25. He stands about 5-foot-10 and weighs 180 pounds. He may have ...
Published: 12/14/17

Pinellas Park officer stuns middle school student with Taser

PINELLAS PARK — A school resource officer stunned a middle school student with a Taser while trying to break up a fight between her and another female student on Thursday, police said.Neither the Pinellas Park officer nor the students involved in the...
Published: 12/14/17