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Hours after vigil, three University of Tampa students crash on Davis Islands

TAMPA — Hours after a candlelight vigil for a schoolmate killed by a hit-and-run driver, three University of Tampa students driving on Davis Islands crashed into a wall early Tuesday, critically injuring one passenger, police said.

The accident happened about 3:20 a.m. and left UT officials wondering how much more they could take.

Tampa police said Michael Louis-Fernand, 20, was driving a 2009 two-door Volkswagen GTI west on W Davis Boulevard toward the end of the island when he lost control, hit a curb and smashed into a concrete wall around a home at 523 Erie Ave.

Two other 20-year-old UT students, Michelle Sams and Jorge Jimenez, were in the car.

The home's residents were not injured.

Sams, who was in the back seat, was taken to Tampa General Hospital, where she remained in critical condition Tuesday. Her mother, Donna, said the family was told Michelle was "almost gone" when officers found her. She had a lacerated liver and lost a lot of blood, Donna Sams said.

Reached by phone at the family's home in Wilton, Conn., Donna and Steven Sams were getting ready to fly to Tampa.

They had been planning to meet their daughter at the airport Wednesday when she arrived home for Thanksgiving. Instead, the parents will be spending the holiday at a hospital with their daughter. Donna Sams said surgeons told her that her daughter was stable.

Louis-Fernand and Jimenez were taken to Tampa General Hospital with minor injuries, said Tampa police spokeswoman Andrea Davis. Both were treated and released Tuesday afternoon.

Investigators are trying to determine whether alcohol was a factor. Police said they took a blood sample from Louis-Fernand, but results could take several weeks.

According to UT's athletics Web site, Louis-Fernand is a sophomore swimmer from Castries, St. Lucia, who is majoring in finance and accounting.

A couple of hours after the crash, officers at the scene shook their heads as a tow truck hauled the smashed red car away, its front end crumpled and windshield shattered.

Bob Ruday, UT's dean of students, said he and his staff were working on a message about safety to send out to students when they returned from Thanksgiving break, but was unsure what that would be.

"We're doing a lot. We're doing all that we know we can do," Ruday said. "These things have been very random."

Ruday said at least five parents have called the private school concerned about the safety of their children.

It's the second crash involving UT students in less than a week. Early Saturday, Erik Nicoletti was crossing Kennedy Boulevard near North Boulevard with two friends when a car hit the group and kept driving. Nicoletti died, and Cree Riley, 19, was critically injured.

Andres Trujillo, 27, was charged with leaving the scene of a crash with death. He is being held at a Hillsborough County jail without bail.

Hours before the Davis Islands crash, UT students held a vigil for Nicoletti at the campus, with officials urging student safety.

Three months ago, UT student Ryan McCall was fatally shot at the North Boulevard Bridge by a man who jumped out of the bushes demanding money. Police still have no suspects.

Ruday said that when students return from break he will enlist the help of resident assistants at campus housing to help spread the word to students about being mindful of personal safety.

Donna Sams said it's a message she has tried to stress, too.

"They think they're adults, but they're not. They're kids," she said. "They think they know it all."

Michelle Sams, an exercise science major, is a talented tennis player who wants to become a part-time personal trainer, her mother said. Perhaps her good health helped her survive the crash, Donna Sams said.

She said that when she sees her daughter, she'll first tell her how blessed she is. But later, Donna Sams said, she wants to ask her daughter why she was out in a car in the middle of the night.

"I hope they weren't drinking, because there's going to be hell to pay if they were," she said.

Three University of Tampa students crashed into the wall around a Davis Islands home early Tuesday. One was critically injured.

Kim Wilmath | Times

Three University of Tampa students crashed into the wall around a Davis Islands home early Tuesday. One was critically injured.

Davis Islands crash critically injures UT student

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Hours after vigil, three University of Tampa students crash on Davis Islands 11/24/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 24, 2009 11:22pm]
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