Girl killed in Plant City utility-vehicle crash was 'adventurous spirit'

Kailee Carter, 9, was thrown from a Can-Am Commander when the driver, an 11-year-old girl, lost control on private property on Plant City.
A Facebook page was set up to help the family of Kailee Carter, 9, who was killed Saturday when she was thrown from a utility task vehicle in Plant City. [Facebook]
A Facebook page was set up to help the family of Kailee Carter, 9, who was killed Saturday when she was thrown from a utility task vehicle in Plant City. [Facebook]
Published June 26

PLANT CITY — Kailee Carter enjoyed the thrill of a motorized off-roading machine.

The 9-year-old Plant City native "loved to get dirty and ride her 4-wheeler," her obituary says, an apparent reference to an all-terrain vehicle.

On Saturday, Kailee was killed when another type of off-road vehicle, a Can-Am Commander, overturned. Kailee, who was the passenger in the two-seat vehicle, was ejected. The driver, an 11-year-old girl, was injured.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office has not released either girl's name, but friends have organized a Facebook fundraiser for Kailee's family and her obituary was posted online this week.

"Our Friends/Family lost their little girl in terrible tragedy Saturday," family friend Stephanie Raulerson, a co-organizer of the fundraiser, wrote on the Facebook page. "Any donations will greatly be appreciated to help them, they are a wonderful parents and this is a devastating tragedy and we are all still trying to wrap our minds around it all."

The crash happened about 8 p.m. on private property in the 6000 block of Varn Road, northwest of the city limits. The Sheriff's Office did not release an address. According to a preliminary case summary released by the Hillsborough Medical Examiner's Office, a detective said Kailee was attending a "memorial party."

When the driver tried to turn the vehicle around, she lost control and it overturned. Neither girl was wearing a seatbelt, the Sheriff's Office said. Kailee was not wearing a helmet, according to the medical examiner's report.

Responding paramedics could not detect Kailee's heartbeat and she was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at South Florida Baptist Hospital. The Medical Examiner determined she of died of skull fractures caused by blunt impact to the head.

The Can-Am Commander is in a class of machines known as utility task vehicles, or UTVs, because they're often used to haul materials and gear. They feature side-by-side bucket or bench seating and a steering wheel. An all-terrain vehicle, by contrast, has handlebars and a seat straddled by one or two riders.

The Commander features a two-cylinder engine that can reach speeds in excess of 50 miles per hour.

"They're not 12- to 15-mile-per hour golf carts," said John Havell, owner of Action Kawasaki Yamaha, a Bradenton dealership that sells Can-Am vehicles. "These are powerful machines."

The Commander comes in several models with two or four seats and features a roll cage to protect the occupants if the vehicle overturns. The operator's manual for a 2020 Commander states that operators should be at least 16 and always wear seat belts and other safety gear, including a helmet and eye protection.

The Commander also features side netting that the manual says should be fastened while the vehicle is in motion.

Florida law refers to vehicles like the Commander as "off-highway vehicles" but restrictions in the law apply only when the machines are operating on public lands.

Among these restrictions:

• Operators younger than 16 must be supervised by an adult, though the law does not specify whether that means an adult must be inside the vehicle.

• Operators younger than 16 must wear a helmet, eye protection and over-the-ankle boots and must carry a certificate showing they completed an approved off-highway vehicle safety course.

"As a dealer we would not be okay, whether it's private property or public property, with an 11-year-old driving one of these machines," Havell said. "We would absolutely not condone that."

Sheriff's officials "have no reason to believe" the girl driving the Commander will be criminally charged and no other charges are expected in the case, though the investigation remained active this week, said Crystal Clark, a sheriff's spokeswoman.

Investigators "look into all of the circumstances surrounding the crash, including where the parents were at the time of the incident, before closing the case," Clark said.

Kailee was the daughter of Erin Carter, Britt Cox and Charles Carter, her obituary says. She had two siblings and attended Knights Elementary School. She loved to play softball, sing, dance and draw.

"Kailee enjoyed playing in the dirt and was an adventurous spirit," the obituary says.

By Wednesday afternoon, more than 200 donors had chipped in to raise more than $10,000 for the family, more than twice the original goal.

Daisey Pritchard, a co-organizer of the Facebook fundraiser and a friend of Erin Carter and Cox, declined to comment Wednesday and said the couple was not ready to talk. Charles Carter could not be reached.

Contact Tony Marrero at tmarrero@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.

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