TAMPA — Tyronda Sampson was only 20 when she gave birth to her son, Tyree. Her life until then had been interrupted by prison time for a robbery she committed as a teen.
When Tyree arrived, she found fresh purpose, relatives said.
They weren't surprised to find out that the boy, now 3, was carefully strapped into a car seat as Sampson drove a friend through east Tampa late Sunday.
Another driver sped through a red light and smashed into Sampson's maroon Chevrolet, witnesses told police. Sampson, 23, and passenger Michael Wimbley, 28, died instantly.
But Tyree emerged from the crash uninjured, and police said the car seat may have saved him.
"There was a huge amount of collision damage, and it's not likely he would have survived or escaped without major injuries had he not been properly restrained in a car seat," said Tampa police Lt. Ricardo Ubinas, who was at the crash scene.
Police said Rico Taylor, 35, was driving south on 34th Street about 11:25 p.m. when his Infiniti collided with Sampson's Chevrolet at Lake Avenue. The impact pushed her car into a third vehicle waiting to turn. Occupants inside the third vehicle had minor injuries, police said.
Taylor ran from the scene but was arrested nearby, police said. He was held in the county jail on charges of leaving the scene of a traffic crash involving death and driving with a suspended license.
Police said alcohol may have played a role in the crash, and Taylor could face more charges pending the results of a blood-alcohol test. Jail records show he has a history of arrests in Hillsborough County. He was released from prison in 2007 after serving more than three years for grand theft, possession and sale of cocaine and uttering a forged instrument, state records show.
Frankie Anderson, who is Sampson's aunt, spoke of her love for Tyree.
"Taking care of her son was always Tyronda's main focus, giving him all the very best of life," Anderson said. "And all that she wanted for herself was set aside to focus on him. And that's what she did, right up to the end."
Sampson's cousin Lametrius Jones described her as "beautiful, caring, loving, an awesome mother with a strong spirit."
The young mother, who grew up in Tampa, loved watching comedies and styling hair with her friends, Jones said.
But most of her time was split between watching her son and working to pay for the apartment she shared with her brother in Temple Terrace, Anderson said. Sampson had worked at a Burger King and at the Quality Inn and Suites in Ybor City, the aunt said.
Now, Tyree Sampson will live with Sampson's mother in Jacksonville, Anderson said.
Times news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Anastasia Dawson at email@example.com or (813) 226-3377. Follow @adawsonwrites.