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St. Petersburg mother dies after driving into retention pond

James Wolfe answered his wife's phone call early Monday and heard the fear.

"I could hear the panic in her voice,'' he said. "She was freaking out."

Jennifer Wolfe's minivan had veered off northbound 28th Street N about 12:30 a.m., crossed southbound lanes and slid down an embankment into a retention pond.

Now the 2004 Honda Odyssey was sinking, and his wife was unable to open the door.

"The water was rising, and she couldn't get out," James Wolfe said. "There was nothing she could do to get out of the van."

Wolfe called 911 and then tried to find his wife.

She had gone out for a quick trip to Walmart. She told him the street she was on, and he began searching online maps and trying to connect to a locator on her cellphone.

By the time he pinpointed her location and arrived at the scene near 28th Street and Roosevelt Boulevard, it was too late. Police had already blocked off the pond.

"She just wanted me to come get her, but I couldn't," James Wolfe said. "I just couldn't."

Jennifer Wolfe, 35, had tried to call police herself, but the call was cut off before she ever spoke with a dispatcher.

Police said it was unclear whether she might have tried to escape another way, such as through a window, but that an autopsy may reveal more.

Although initial reports said she had been run off the road, James Wolfe said she told him that another car had cut in front of her and that she ended up in the water after swerving to avoid another vehicle.

Police said they have little to go on in the search for a possible second driver.

Police didn't find Wolfe's van until a Pinellas County Sheriff's Office helicopter scoured the area from above. Divers went into the water about 1:30 a.m., broke a window and pulled Wolfe from her seat.

She was taken to Northside Hospital in St. Petersburg, where she was pronounced dead.

Divers also found an abandoned car near the van. It did not have a license plate and showed signs of having been in the water for a lengthy period, police said.

James Wolfe said his wife was "a dedicated wife and mother." She was earning A's in a nursing program, and Wolfe said she excelled as a parent to their 9- and 11-year-old boys.

"She always did things for the boys, but at the same time she would show them how to do things so they could do it for themselves the next time," he said.

The family, which lives in the 500 block of Trinity Lane N, moved here about a year ago from Memphis and has no relatives in the area.

"Hopefully, we can find a life here," Wolfe said. "Find a way to move on."

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Claire Wiseman can be reached at cwiseman@tampabay.com or (727)-893-8804. Follow @clairelwiseman on Twitter.

Safety tips

If your vehicle is headed underwater, authorities recommend the following:

On the way down, try to unbuckle your seat belt and open a window. This could allow you to swim to safety.

If the vehicle is sinking rapidly, stay calm and wait for the car to fill with water. If you have time, shed heavy clothing such as shoes that could bog you down as you swim. Once the pressure is equalized, you should be able to open the door or break out a window.

Keeping a hammer in your glove box or other location inside your car could help you break the glass. Remember that windows are made of weaker glass than windshields and should be easier to break if you need to swim to safety.

St. Petersburg mother dies after driving into retention pond 03/10/14 [Last modified: Monday, March 10, 2014 11:43pm]

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