CLEARWATER — Kim Johnson rushed out to the scene of a resounding crash in front of her house near Keene Road and Cleveland Street.
She felt a brief sigh of relief when she saw an empty car seat in Priscilla Baltazar's Honda. Johnson only saw a young boy with a seat belt in the back seat. He appeared alone and okay.
But then Baltazar, 19, screamed, "My baby!" She reached in the car and pulled an infant off the floor in the back. There was blood on his face.
In the crash just before 6 p.m. Thursday, the 3-month-old baby, Alden Perez, was ejected from his car seat, Clearwater police say. He was treated at the scene and taken to Morton Plant Hospital, where he died.
Friday, Baltazar was in fair condition at Bayfront Medical Center. Her 3-year-old son, Isaac Perez, was treated at All Children's Hospital and released Friday, according an administrator.
Baltazar declined comment on the crash through a hospital representative.
Johnson said the car seat for the baby was in the middle of the back seat facing toward the front of the car.
Clearwater police spokeswoman Elizabeth Watts declined to provide any details about what role the car seat may have played in the fatality, saying that the investigation is ongoing.
Florida law says that children must be properly restrained in a federally approved seat until they turn 4 years old, said Sgt. Steve Gaskins of the Florida Highway Patrol.
But child safety experts say parents should take extra steps to keep their kids safe. Babies should be fastened in rear-facing safety seats in the back seat until they are at least one year old and at least 20 pounds, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
And new research shows that children are more than five times safer riding in rear-facing seats up to their second birthday, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
NHTSA data also indicates that seven out of 10 child safety seats are either the wrong size for children or seriously misused, reducing their effectiveness in a crash.
Police said the accident occurred when a 2007 Mazda SUV, driven by 30-year-old Edgar Rivera of Dunedin, hit Baltazar's 2001 Honda as she drove north in the right lane on Keene Road. Rivera, who was heading south, attempted to turn onto a small passageway to get onto N Venus Avenue, a small side street that runs parallel to Keene.
Rivera refused medical treatment at the scene.
Charges are pending, police said.
After the crash, Johnson urged the mother, who grabbed her chest in pain, to move away from traffic, she said. And when they got to the median Baltazar handed her the baby. Johnson held him until rescue crews got there, she said.
"It was very traumatic," said Johnson, 40. But she says she still hasn't had time to process the tragedy.
"I don't know how I'll be in a few days," Johnson said.
Rivera could not be reached for comment.
Since 2000, he has been cited four times for speeding in other states and in Florida, according to state records. Adjudication was withheld in a 2007 Pinellas case where he was cited for going 61 mph in a 45 mph zone.
Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Lorri Helfand can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 445-4155.