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Mother ‘destroyed’ after son, 13, killed at St. Petersburg street racing event

Francis Simpson said she is trying her best to live without her son Ethan after he was killed by a speeding motorcycle last month.
 
Francis Simpson, left, is pictured with her son, Ethan Martin, 13, in a family photo. Ethan was killed on Jan. 29 when a speeding motorcycle struck the boy while he was crossing a St. Petersburg street during an illegal street racing event, police said. Three people have been charged in the boy's death, including Ethan Martin's father, Johnny Martin.
Francis Simpson, left, is pictured with her son, Ethan Martin, 13, in a family photo. Ethan was killed on Jan. 29 when a speeding motorcycle struck the boy while he was crossing a St. Petersburg street during an illegal street racing event, police said. Three people have been charged in the boy's death, including Ethan Martin's father, Johnny Martin. [ Francis Simpson ]
Published Feb. 17, 2023

Francis Simpson wishes that she could cry. That she could scream and shout. But she can’t.

When the mother begins to sob, her 3-year-old son, William, will come to her. “Mommy, Mommy, don’t cry,” the boy says. “Ethan is still here.”

William pulls his mother to the fridge, where there is a picture of Ethan Martin, Simpson’s oldest son.

Even Simpson’s youngest child, Taisha, who is a little over a year old, knocks on Ethan’s door. “E, E,” she says, waiting for her older brother to open the door.

Simpson has not opened Ethan’s bedroom door since the day a speeding motorcyclist killed him nearly three weeks ago.

“I’m still here, up, because of my two little ones,” Simpson said in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times. “But if it wasn’t for them, I’d be in bed crying because of what is going on.”

Ethan Martin, 13, was killed early on Jan. 29 after his father Johnny Martin brought the boy to an illegal street race on 28th Street North near 110th Avenue North, according to St. Petersburg police. Just after midnight, police said, Ethan tried to cross 28th Street and was struck by a motorcyclist going over 100 mph.

In the wake of the night’s events, police have arrested three people including Johnny Martin, 35, who faces a charge of child neglect. Police said the charge is appropriate because Martin took his son to an illegal event and the boy died as a result.

On Thursday, police announced two additional arrests in the case. Carlos Fernandez, 21, the motorcyclist, and his uncle, Allen Boreland Jr. 39, the owner of the motorcycle, were both arrested on a charge of culpable negligence manslaughter. Fernandez also faces a charge of vehicular homicide and reckless driving resulting in serious injury because the motorcycle struck another bystander that night, police said.

Related: What to know about Tampa Bay street racing after child killed at race, dad arrested

Police called Simpson to tell her about the Fernandez and Boreland’s arrests. Regardless of the charges, her son is dead and the arrests won’t bring him back, Simpson said.

“It destroyed me. Destroyed me,” Simpson said. “Believe me, I try my best every day to live with it.”

The last time Simpson spoke to her son was around 10 p.m. on Jan. 28, a Saturday. Ethan called Simpson on Johnny Martin’s phone, because his was broken, he said. The boy told his mother his father was going to get him a new one, Simpson said. The last thing Simpson heard her son say was, “goodnight mama, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Simpson said neither Ethan Martin nor Johnny Martin mentioned they were going to watch street racing that night so she had no idea they were going to the illegal event.

Johnny Martin and Simpson separated when Ethan was 3 years old and they shared custody of the boy, Simpson said. Ethan Martin lived with his mother in Brooksville but he would spend every other weekend with his father, Simpson said.

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When Simpson saw Johnny Martin calling her around 1 a.m. that Sunday, her first thought was that he wanted to argue about a previous conversation. And then he kept calling.

When Simpson picked up, Martin told her that her son had died.

Simpson said she couldn’t process the news.

“Why, why did you take my son there?” she recalled asking Martin.

“I don’t believe it... I feel like a nightmare, that I’m going to wake up and I’m going to see him. But it’s not going to happen,” she said, her voice breaking.

A person who answered the phone Friday at a number listed for Johnny Martin hung up when a Tampa Bay Times reporter identified herself.

Related: Tampa Bay street races often are posted online for attention. A new law makes it evidence.

In the days since Ethan Martin’s death, Simpson said the reminders of her son that remain in her home are overwhelming. Simpson left her Brooksville house to stay with her sister in Texas, where she could have some space to grieve while her sister helps with her youngest children.

Simpson’s husband stayed in Florida because he started a new job this week and couldn’t afford to miss any work. Simpson spoke to her husband yesterday. She said it’s difficult for him to focus. All he can think about is his stepson that he’s known since the boy was born.

Simpson described Ethan as a boy with love to share. He was a good boy who tried to help in any way he could, she said, even if he was young and still learning how. He loved video games and being with friends.

Ethan Martin, 13, was killed on Jan. 29 when a speeding motorcycle struck the boy while he was crossing a St. Petersburg street during an illegal street racing event, police said. Three people have been arrested in the boy's death, including Ethan Martin's father, Johnny Martin, 34.
Ethan Martin, 13, was killed on Jan. 29 when a speeding motorcycle struck the boy while he was crossing a St. Petersburg street during an illegal street racing event, police said. Three people have been arrested in the boy's death, including Ethan Martin's father, Johnny Martin, 34.

Ethan had dreams of becoming a mechanic and creating video games, his mother said. She wanted her son to get outside, so the family would go fishing or go on bike rides and even take trips to Orlando.

After his death, Ethan’s friends came together to throw flowers into the sea as a memorial for him. Simpson said she was touched by their kind words for her child, but it broke her heart even more to see the kids mourning.

One friend of the boy’s dropped off a letter for Simpson. In the letter, the girl drew a heart next to Ethan’s name.

“I feel for you and I know this is very difficult but please know I will NEVER forget Ethan Martin,” the girl wrote.

Simpson said she recognizes people want the adrenaline rush that comes from watching street races, but said she wants them to be in a place where they are legal and safe. It’s understandable, she said, but not like this. And now her son has to pay.

“It’s a pain that I’m going to deal with the rest of my life,” she said.