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"I wish I would have been with my child'

Natoshia Mitchell didn't walk Thursday with her 340 graduating classmates who received diplomas from Dixie Hollins High School.

Instead, the 19-year-old mother contemplated life without her son. On the day she was scheduled to graduate, her 2-year-old, Antonio Brazel, died from head injuries.

Police say one of Mitchell's friends told them that the child's head slammed into the dashboard of his 1989 Ford Bronco about 5:18 p.m. Wednesday as the friend stopped suddenly to avoid a car that pulled in front of him.

The boy, who was not in a car seat or wearing a seat belt, was unconscious and taken to the hospital, police say.

He died about 5 a.m. Thursday after doctors performed surgery on his swollen brain.

But Mitchell, her mother and other family members say they aren't sure what to believe.

"Right now, I don't know what to think," Mitchell said hours after making funeral arrangements for her toddler. "I don't really know what happened."

Both traffic homicide and regular homicide units are looking into the death, police officials said Friday. No one has been charged.

Police also are trying to determine whether the driver of the car violated a law requiring that any child younger than 3 be in a child restraint seat. All children younger than 5 must be restrained in some manner while riding.

The state Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services also is investigating. HRS spokeswoman Elaine Fulton-Jones said the agency is trying to determine whether the child was abused.

She said the state has "no prior allegations that this child was abused."

Police have refused to identify the driver in the case because they say he is a potential suspect.

But Mitchell said Greg Flournoy, her 30-year-old boyfriend, was babysitting her son Wednesday afternoon, the last day she attended classes at Dixie Hollins.

She said Flournoy told her that he had to pick up some medicine for his mother.

Mitchell got home from school and a trip to the mall about 2 p.m. and waited for Flournoy, who had the day off from his job at the St. Petersburg Times printing plant.

Flournoy arrived at Mitchell's home with Antonio in his arms, unconscious, she said. "He put water on him, and that's when we took him to the hospital. I didn't even cut off the stove."

According to police, Antonio was taken to St. Anthony's Hospital with a head injury. He later was taken to Bayfront Medical Center for surgery. Then he went to All Children's Hospital where he died at 5 a.m. Thursday.

A police news release said the child was riding in a 1989 Ford Bronco near 15th Avenue and 24th Street when the driver stopped suddenly.

Antonio, who was riding without a seat belt, hit the dashboard with his head, the release said.

No one but the driver and the boy were in the car.

Reached at his home Friday, Flournoy said that was what he told police, but he didn't want to comment further.

When told that HRS was investigating, Flournoy said: "There ain't no child abuse. That's not true."

Mitchell said she and Flournoy, who is not the child's father, have had problems in the past.

Police had made 10 visits to Mitchell's home at 1115 24 Way S on domestic calls, said police spokeswoman Terri Hubble.

Flournoy was charged with domestic battery by St. Petersburg police in 1992, but the charges were dropped. It was unclear from computer court records who accused him in the case.

Mitchell said she has never seen Flournoy beat her son.

Friday, Mitchell's principal brought her diploma to her mother's home. She said she didn't think much about graduation.

"It's like, most of the time, I've thought about my baby," Mitchell said tearfully. "I wish I would have been with my child."

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