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Boy killed, mom hurt when car hits pole

A 5-year-old Pasco County boy was killed Friday night when the car his mother was driving veered off the road and smashed into a utility pole.

Justin Sheldon, who was not wearing a seat belt, died at the scene of the accident at about 11 p.m. Friday.

His mother, Tina M. Sheldon, 32, was flown by helicopter to St. Joseph's Hospital and then transferred to Tampa General Hospital. She was in critical but stable condition after surgery Saturday, hospital officials said.

As of Saturday evening, investigators did not know what caused Sheldon's 1986 Nissan 2-door to crash into the pole while she drove north on McKethan Road, about a mile north of the Pasco-Hernando line in the Ridge Manor area.

The impact snapped the wooden pole in two pieces. The car, which was destroyed, came to rest in a pasture about 25 yards from the east shoulder. There were no skid marks where the car left the road, according to Florida Highway Patrol reports.

Tina Sheldon, who also wasn't wearing a seat belt, was ejected from the car, FHP reports said. The Dade City waitress had spinal injuries and was breathing Saturday with help from a respirator, family members said.

No one else was involved in the accident, FHP reports said.

"Everyone is rallying together today," said Sherrill Sheldon, Justin's paternal grandmother. "Both sides of the family are coming together for Justin and Tina."

The grandmother did not know where Justin and his mother were going at 11 p.m. She said it was unusual for them to be out that late.

Tina and Dade City resident Darryl Sheldon, Justin's father, are separated. Justin was living with his mother in northeast Pasco County. Darryl Sheldon was too distraught to comment.

Tina Sheldon's sisters were traveling to the area from Texas and Orlando on Saturday. Their parents are deceased.

The family will remember Justin, a Lacoochee Elementary School kindergarten student, as a happy and likable boy, his grandmother said. He loved to play Nintendo and was an ace at coloring books.

"He was just starting school. He was beginning his life," she said. "At least he didn't suffer.

"Now we have to pray for Tina," said Sherrill Sheldon, as she began to cry. "She has to pull through."

_ Times staff writer Geoff Dougherty contributed to this report.