Tuesday, June 19, 2018
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]

     
   
Comments
Safety Harbor fire chief departs: ‘Take pride in the job’

Safety Harbor fire chief departs: ‘Take pride in the job’

SAFETY HARBOR — When Fire Chief Joe Accetta started working at the Safety Harbor Fire Department, Fire Station 53 was a double wide in the middle of a field now home to Mease Countryside Hospital.Now almost four decades of challenges and promotions l...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Deputies search for suspects in rapper XXXTentacion slaying

Deputies search for suspects in rapper XXXTentacion slaying

DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — Deputies were searching for suspects Tuesday after troubled rapper-singer XXXTentacion was fatally shot in the driver’s seat of a luxury electric sports car. The 20-year-old rising star, who pronounced his stage name "Ex Ex Ex...
Updated: 3 hours ago
New Port Richey man faces sexual battery charges

New Port Richey man faces sexual battery charges

NEW PORT RICHEY — A New Port Richey man was arrested Monday and faces sexual battery charges after deputies said he sexually assaulted a 10-year-old girl.Jonathan Wells, 33, would take the victim into his bedroom and undress her, kiss her face and ne...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Lakeland father, girlfriend face charges in death of 6-year-old girl

Lakeland father, girlfriend face charges in death of 6-year-old girl

A Lakeland man and his girlfriend face charges of first-degree murder and aggravated manslaughter in the death of his 6-year-old daughter last week.Larry Lewis Golden Jr., 26, Breonna B. Wren, 21, were arrested Friday and are being held without bail ...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Argument over dog leads to fatal shooting in Polk County

Argument over dog leads to fatal shooting in Polk County

A Fort Meade man was killed Monday night and two others were wounded after Polk County deputies say they approached a man while searching for a lost dog.The shooting occurred around 6:45 p.m. at the home of suspected shooter Charles Peddycoart, at 41...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Deadly Sunday for swimmers in bay area waters

Deadly Sunday for swimmers in bay area waters

Two people drowned and another suffered life-threatening injuries in the waters of Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday.Investigators said all three cases appear to be accidents, but the incidents stand as a reminder that summer, with vacation ...
Published: 06/18/18
Pinellas deputies arrest Mississippi man 31 years after sexual battery

Pinellas deputies arrest Mississippi man 31 years after sexual battery

SEMINOLE — She was 22 when deputies said a man forced her at knifepoint into the woods off Seminole Boulevard and sexually battered her in February 1987.The case went cold, but now the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office said it has arrested the man it ...
Published: 06/18/18
Tampa police seek driver who struck pedestrian and drove off

Tampa police seek driver who struck pedestrian and drove off

TAMPA — Police are seeking the public’s help in locating the driver who fatally struck a pedestrian on Sunday night and then drove off.The incident took place at 9:15 p.m. near the intersection of N Nebraska Avenue and E Linebaugh Avenue.No details a...
Published: 06/18/18
St. Petersburg teen, seven months pregnant, dies in Pasco crash

St. Petersburg teen, seven months pregnant, dies in Pasco crash

HUDSON — A 16-year-old St. Petersburg teen who was seven months pregnant was fatally injured in a crash Sunday night, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.The incident took place at 9:11 p.m. on Little Road south of Hudson Avenue. The teen, Emily ...
Published: 06/18/18
Tampa man rescued from near drowning in waters off Whiskey Joe’s

Tampa man rescued from near drowning in waters off Whiskey Joe’s

A Tampa man was hospitalized with life-threatening injuries on Sunday after he was rescued from a near drowning off the shores of Whiskey Joe’s Tampa Bar & Grill, a popular hangout on the beach of the Courtney Campbell Causeway.When police officers a...
Published: 06/18/18