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Parents try to deal with death of Ruskin family

RUSKIN — As the sun set Monday, one of Sylvia Pittman's pink shoes still rested on the grass near the power pole that her car hit Sunday. Gerald Pittman Jr.'s cap lay there, too, next to broken glass and the flowers someone left.

The accident killed the Pittmans and their 5-year-old son, Jarod, just a few blocks from home.

Gerald Pittman's stepmother, Anne Tillett, 49, walked down to the corner Monday afternoon and sobbed when she saw the debris. She hadn't been able to sleep since the accident. Neither had the young man's mother, Eva Ramirez, 48.

"When I close my eyes, all I can envision is the car with them dead in it," Ramirez said.

The accident occurred about 7 p.m. Sunday as the Pittmans traveled on 30th Street SE in Ruskin, approaching 21st Avenue SE in a Chevrolet Celebrity, the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office said.

Deputies say Sylvia Pittman, 27, ran the stop sign and hit an eastbound Ford Expedition driven by Eduardo Herrera-Loa, 44, but they also say it appeared Herrera-Loa had been drinking.

The Pittmans' car slammed into a pole and the family died at the scene. Herrera-Loa, of Ruskin, was taken to a local hospital with minor injuries and released.

A DUI investigation is ongoing, said Sheriff's Office spokesman J.D. Callaway.

Gerald Pittman Sr., sat grieving in his trailer Monday evening.

He said he can't believe Sylvia would run a stop sign. That's not like her, he said.

The family said detectives told them a 9-year-old boy who saw the accident from his yard told deputies the car ran the stop sign.

"They said they were taking that information with a grain of salt," Tillett said.

But Callaway said: "No fact of any aspect of this situation is taken with a grain of salt. That's absurd. We do know that Mrs. Pittman rolled through the stop sign. However, we have a DUI investigation under way on Mr. Herrera-Loa to determine whether there's any culpability on his part."

Sylvia Pittman had a clean driving history in Florida, state records show.

Maybe she had already stopped and was inching her car up so she could look left, Gerald Pittman Sr. speculated. Brush near the road blocks the view, he said.

"The county needs to get that ditch cleaned up some," he said.

Tillett pulled out photos from the young couple's 2002 wedding, and the family reminisced about Thanksgiving, the last time they all gathered. They ate ham and a deep-fried turkey

That day, as Ramirez stood in the carport, her son walked up to her, put his arm around her and asked: "Are you happy?"

"Yes, I'm happy," she said. She had both her sons with her.

Gerald Pittman Jr. had a younger brother, William Pittman.

Jarod was Gerald Pittman Sr.'s only grandson.

"He was a bundle of joy," he said.

Jarod took special education classes at Corr Elementary in Gibsonton. He was hyperactive, Ramirez said, and he loved to be outside.

Most nights, the boy would jump together with his parents on a trampoline near their trailer.

Sylvia Pittman had just started working in the kitchen of Sonny's Real Pit Bar-B-Q, and her husband, 29, was a stay-at-home dad, his father said. When Jarod was at school, Gerald Pittman Jr. and his father often went together on jobs.

"He was loving, caring and real carefree," Ramirez said. "You couldn't do anything to hurt him. He just thought everybody was great."

Times news researcher John Martin and staff writers Kim Wilmath and Alexandra Zayas contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2443.

Parents try to deal with death of Ruskin family 11/30/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 1, 2009 7:56am]
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