PINELLAS PARK — Angela Gaskin's mother admits her daughter was ''always in a party mode," but her bizarre death early Tuesday stunned even those closest to her.
Gaskin, 20, was killed when her head struck several mailboxes as she leaned out the window of a moving pickup truck, the driver told police.
She was pronounced dead at Northside Hospital about 1 a.m. after being taken to the emergency room by driver Karl Norman Jeckel, 24, of Clearwater.
"Why would anyone drive that close to those mailboxes?" asked Jerry Budho, who heard a crash at 12:37 a.m. from his home in the 4600 block of Lake Boulevard. "No one drives that close, not even bikes. If it's me and someone is sticking themselves out, I keep my truck away from there."
Pinellas Park police are investigating the incident as a possible DUI and are consulting with the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office, Capt. Sanfield Forseth said. Blood and urine samples were taken from Jeckel.
Jeckel said the woman "was just hanging out the window, had her head out having fun and didn't see the mailboxes."
Her mother found the story credible.
"I know how my daughter is," Valerie Gaskin said. "She did what she wanted to do. She was spontaneous. I can see her doing that. I can see it being a total accident."
That opinion will change if details of the crash, described to her by Jeckel, prove different, she said.
Jeckel told her he had not been drinking. But Gaskin said she considered it a "good possibility," based on past actions, that both her daughter and Jeckel had been drinking.
Jeckel said he, Angela Gaskin and Ashleea N. Smith, 21, were returning from Applebee's about 12:30 a.m. in his 2005 Chevrolet pickup.
"(Angela) was playing a Nintendo game, then she threw her head out the window" at the 4600 block of Lake Boulevard, Valerie Gaskin said, recalling Jeckel's account.
Jeckel said he then "heard a thump-thump-thump," she added.
"He stopped the truck," Valerie Gaskin said, "got on the other side and saw a hole in her head and got on On-Star and drove to the hospital."
Jeckel apparently circled back to 49th Street and headed for Northside Hospital, about 3 miles away.
Jeckel, a Coast Guard aviation electronics technician stationed in Clearwater until he was discharged on March 26, has several traffic offenses in Routt County, Colo., including guilty verdicts on driving with a restricted license and driving while impaired.
Pinellas Park police said an initial investigation supported his account of the accident.
The report indicated Jeckel was traveling about 30 mph in a 25 mph zone. Jeckel likely will not be charged unless found to have been impaired, Forseth said.
Angela Gaskin was from Ocala and had recently moved in with Jeckel at 3817 102nd Place N, about a mile from the accident.
Friends and members of Gaskin's family gathered at Jeckel's home Tuesday. Valerie Gaskin said Jeckel was in love with her daughter and was "tore up" over her death.
Mailboxes in the neighborhood are mounted on wood planks sunk in concrete at the roadside. The street appears to be wider than a typical residential road, giving vehicles ample space to avoid the mailboxes.
Gaskin still hit three of them. Two of the small, white metal boxes were dented. A third was removed by police, said resident Jan Brown.
Pieces of plastic speckled with blood were strewn on the grass nearby. Brown said a hazardous-materials team cleaned blood from a gutter about 30 feet from the boxes.
Correction: Karl Norman Jeckel, 24, the driver of a truck in which 20-year-old Angela Gaskin was killed on Tuesday morning after her head hit several mailboxes, was discharged from the U.S. Coast Guard on March 26. Because of incorrect information provided by the Coast Guard, a story Wednesday was incorrect on this point.