Saturday, February 24, 2018
Public safety

Mystery surrounds woman who drove off Lowry Park boat ramp

TAMPA — Migdalia Mendoza was lost in the rain.

She was headed to a church member's house to pray when she accidentally turned into the entrance of Lowry Park.

It was dark. Rain battered her windshield. She drove her Kia Sedona down a boat ramp and into the murky waters of the Hillsborough River.

Someone at the park called 911. Police and the dive team arrived minutes later. They pulled her out of the van and performed CPR.

But Mendoza had died. She was 51.

Tampa police continued to investigate the crash Thursday as Mendoza's family and church coped with her loss.

"She is in heaven. She was a good person," said Yanira Ortiz, her niece. "We are waiting to wake up from this dream, but it won't happen."

Loved ones said Mendoza was dedicated to her church, Oasis Para El Cansado, at 7602 N Florida Ave., which she attended for the past four years.

Mendoza donated money and food to members in need, said Pastor Jose Tejera. A computer teacher for adults, she repaired church members' computers for free. She never missed a day of service.

"That woman was an extraordinary woman," Tejera said. "She would always treat people with respect, with love, with care."

On Wednesday, Mendoza of Thonotosassa met with four other women at the church. They were headed to visit a congregant who fractured her feet and had been unable to attend service, Tejera said.

They left in separate cars. Mendoza, who was traveling alone, led the way while the other car followed, Ortiz said. That's when the women separated.

Mendoza accidentally entered the parking lot of Lowry Park.

The other car stopped. A church member called her to ask where she had gone, Ortiz said.

Moments later, the call dropped.

About 7:30 p.m., someone across the river saw the Kia sink and called 911.

Two officers arrived within five minutes, stripped down and dove in.

Minutes later, the Tampa police dive team arrived and pulled Mendoza from the car, which was submerged in about 10 feet of water.

Ortiz's mother told her about the accident. She rushed to the park and watched as paramedics performed CPR on her aunt.

At St. Joseph's Hospital on Wednesday, Mendoza was pronounced dead.

On Thursday morning, rain continued to fall at Lowry Park. The boat ramp was not cordoned off, but a sign next to it read, "Idle Speed. No Wake." A fisherman and his dog stood near the ramp.

Mendoza and her husband, Felipe, were married 17 years, Tejera said. The couple had decided to celebrate Valentine's Day today.

"They were going to be together," Tejera said. "Having supper and sharing together as a couple."

Instead, Mendoza's husband and their teenage son, Javier, will plan her burial.

They visited several funeral homes on Thursday.

"She died doing what she loved most: doing things for God," Ortiz, 34, said. "That gives us comfort."

Times staff writer Will Hobson contributed to this report.

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