Relatives describe the trucker who took his children on an ill-fated cross-country trip as an accident waiting to happen.
The mother of Spencer Weeks, 6, and his 2-year-old sister, Ashlyn, had always forbidden her estranged husband from taking their children with him on his long-distance truck hauls.
But while Tracy Weeks was visiting her brother in Pennsylvania this week, the children's father loaded them into the cab of an 18-wheeler for a cross-country trip their mother didn't know about.
Their trip ended Friday in a fiery crash in Indiana that killed both children; their father, Stacy Weeks, 28, of Tampa; and his girlfriend, Kristi Wadsworth, 28, of Brandon.
The children didn't know their father very well, Tracy Weeks said Saturday night after she had returned from Pennsylvania. They had separated in Missouri two years ago, when Ashlyn was just 6 months old. But in January, Stacy Weeks told her he wanted to be part of the children's lives.
She wanted her children to know their father, she said, so she let them spend weekends with him. She made it clear, however, that he was never to take them along on a long-distance truck trip. The state of Missouri had revoked his driver's license, she said, and he had a history of accidents.
When Tracy Weeks dropped her children off with their father six days ago, he assured her he was staying home all week.
"He lied to me," she said, sobbing.
According to Indiana State Police, Weeks was speeding when his semitrailer truck passed another truck going north on two-lane State Road 29 near Lafayette, Ind. Weeks' truck clipped a car, veered off the road and smashed into a big maple tree.
Witnesses heard two explosions as the truck's diesel fuel tanks caught fire. The truck burned down to its engine block and frame.
The children's uncle, Leslie Logue, said Stacy Weeks was a good father who loved his children. But Logue and his family believed Weeks was an accident waiting to happen, and they're angry with him.
"We always thought he would die in a truck accident," Logue said. "He'd been in accidents before. My sister didn't believe that was the proper place for the kids to be."
For the Weeks family, the deaths of Spencer and Ashlyn are just the latest in a series of highway tragedies.
Tracy Weeks' sister, 22-year-old Gina Paterno, died June 12 in a crash caused by a drunken driver at the intersection of West Shore and El Prado boulevards. Their brother, Walter Logue, 30, died four years ago in Pennsylvania after he was struck by the same type of truck that Weeks drove.
After almost eight years of marriage, Tracy and Stacy Weeks had separated and were going to be divorced, Logue said. The children lived with their mother, Logue and their maternal grandmother, Gloria Paliwoda, at 10183 Panama Court in Seminole.
"Our lives revolved around those kids," Logue said. "We were a pretty tight family."
Stacy Weeks met Wadsworth, who lived in Brandon, several months ago. Her mother declined to comment, but Anita Weeks, the children's great-grandmother, said Wadsworth had taken a vacation from her job as a claims agent with an insurance company to go on the trip with Weeks and his children.
Cake from Spencer's sixth birthday party Tuesday night still sits in Anita Weeks' refrigerator. He loved to play soccer and attended programs at the YMCA, she said. He would have started first grade this fall.
Ashlyn, who would have turned 3 later this month, had just reached the point where she would brush her teeth by herself and then announce proudly that she was a big girl now.
Stacy Weeks had a wild streak that he was just starting to control, Anita Weeks said. He had been cited before for speeding and drunken driving, she said.
Stacy Weeks, Wadsworth and the children left Wednesday morning. Weeks was hauling citrus pulp to Michigan and was on his way to a stop in Logansport, Ind., when he crashed. They had been due back Saturday night or this morning.
When Anita Weeks arrived home Friday at 2317 E 111th Ave., she saw a man walking over from a neighbor's house. She thought he was a salesman. He was a police officer with news about her grandson and great-grandchildren.
"I'm thankful for one thing," Anita Weeks said. "His babies went with him. He doesn't have to live without them, and they don't have to live without him."