TAMPA — It was late April when the shiny black muscle car rolled off the lot of a Tampa Ford dealership.
The 2018 Mustang GT with the eight-cylinder engine was registered to Cheryl Herrin, a retired South Tampa insurance executive, but the keys were a gift for her son Cameron. The 18-year-old was about to graduate from Tampa Catholic High School and his parents were proud of him.
Two days after the graduation ceremony, the Mustang sat dented and empty on Bayshore Boulevard, a physical representation of lives lost and futures derailed.
Police say Cameron Herrin was racing the car at speeds of up to 102 mph before it slammed into a young mother pushing her 21-month-old daughter across the scenic road. The mother was thrown at least 40 feet after impact, reports show. Her daughter and the stroller came to rest at least 30 feet beyond that. Both later died.
Tristan Herrin, Cameron's 20-year-old brother, was riding in the passenger seat of the Mustang. Police say they were racing a Nissan Altima driven by John Barrineau, a 17-year-old classmate and friend of Cameron's.
In an instant, the trio from well-to-do families shot from obscurity to local notoriety. None of them have a criminal record or even a driving infraction. But condemnation from the court of public opinion came swiftly.
"Hopefully these idiot kids get the maximum sentence and go to prison for a long time," a commenter wrote on a Tampa Bay Times story.
"Clearly, the parents of these three young men have not been successful in raising them to think of the consequences of their actions," wrote another.
The crash has been the talk of the tight-knit Tampa Catholic community but more than 60 people in the families' close orbit declined to speak to the Times. Those who would speak to reporters chose their words carefully, describing the parents, Chris and Cheryl Herrin, as devastated.
All said the Herrins are loving, attentive parents of good kids who made a fatal mistake. The families, friends say, are now burdened by guilt. The crash ended the life of a toddler and her mother, a woman family and friends described as a devoted mother, wife and niece.
Jessica Raubenolt married two years ago after meeting her husband-to-be, David, while studying nutrition at Kent State University. A health and fitness advocate, she was visiting Florida with her daughter Lillia so David could obtain his certification as a single-engine airplane pilot.
After the crash, Raubenolt's uncle, John Reisinger of Tampa, said the family was praying for the teens and their parents.
"We hope something good will come of this foolish accident," Reisinger said. "That's what Jessie would want."
Friends of the young man behind the wheel are also struggling with the aftermath.
"Everyone feels terrible for the victims and that a husband and father has to go through this world alone, but we also feel bad for Cameron, because we just graduated together," said Andrea Urdaneta, 17, a fellow Tampa Catholic graduating senior who knew Cameron since he was a freshman. "He had his whole life planned out, like we all did."
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The Herrins came to Florida in 2005, as Cheryl Herrin was ascending the corporate ladder at the State Farm insurance company. Despite earning a degree in fine arts from Texas Tech University, she joined a south Texas branch of State Farm in 1984 and worked her way up through the posts in several states, her company biography states.
Her husband Chris Herrin, 58, also attended Texas Tech, earning a degree in television and radio. He would later work as a videographer and editor specializing in corporate video presentations, according to his LinkedIn page. But he mostly stayed home to focus on raising the boys, family friends said.
"He was Mr. Mom," said David Bailey, who has lived across the street from the family since they moved to Florida and watched the boys grow up.
By the time Cheryl Herrin, 58, became vice president of the company's Mid-Atlantic zone, she had given birth to both sons — Tristan in 1997 and Cameron in 1999.
In 2005, she transferred to Florida to take over as vice-president of State Farm's Florida zone. That year, when the real estate bubble was at its peak, the Herrins purchased a Mediterranean-style home on West Gardner Court in South Tampa's Ballast Point neighborhood. They paid $1.4 million for the property, records show.
Built just a couple of years earlier, the house offered plenty of space for the family, with five bedrooms and five-and-a-half bathrooms in nearly 6,000 square feet, records show.
The same year the Herrins bought the house, then-state Sen. President Ken Pruitt appointed Cheryl Herrin to the Board of Governors for Citizens Property Insurance, the state-run insurer of last resort for Florida residents. Herrin stepped down from the board in 2007, after then-Gov. Charlie Crist signed into law sweeping changes to Citizens. Cheryl Herrin worried the changes might cause conflicts of interest with her employer, according to a resignation letter.
As children, Tristan and Cameron often came to Bailey's house to play with his daughter. Bailey described Tristan as an outdoorsy type and a "tinkerer" who actually enjoyed mowing the lawn and trimming weeds. Cameron was more bookish and spent more time inside. The brothers got along well, he said.
More recently, Tristan volunteered to do demolition work for a man who remodeled and flipped houses, Bailey said.
"He worked for free just so he could get experience," he said.
Carey Bond has lived across from the Herrins for about 12 years, and her son James Pardee has been best friends with Cameron since the second grade.
A single mother, Bond counted on Cameron and Tristan when landscaping or replacing sod. She said they were the only boys in the neighborhood to insist on helping.
"The whole family is always right there when you need them," she said.
The Herrins kept close tabs on their boys, Bond said. Cameron was well-liked, she said, but preferred to spend time with a tight circle of friends he met in Stewart Middle Magnet School's NASA Explorer Academy.
As prom approached, Cameron sought Bond's help. James giggled in the backseat as Cameron bought cupcakes and flowers from Publix, then drove 25 miles to his would-be date's house to pop the question.
"This kid will never be the same, and it's so sad,'' Bond said.
The Herrins had enough money to make the most of Florida living. The couple bought a pair of water scooters, and Cameron and Tristan joined a local club called the Tampa JetSki Crew.
Last November, all four family members headed to SkyDive City in Zephryhills. In a company video posted on YouTube, the family told the cameraman they were celebrating Cameron's birthday. When the cameraman asked who was the most scared to jump, they laughed and pointed to Cheryl, who admitted she probably was.
Urdaneta, the Tampa Catholic classmate, said Cameron often spent his weekends with John Barrineau and frequently posted photos on social media posing with his paintball gun or hanging out at Barrineau's house.
In his last semester at Tampa Catholic, Cameron took a social justice class, a requirement for seniors. Students discussed real-life ethical dilemmas to better understand complex issues.
On one occasion, students judged the consequences of a person who killed a pregnant mother. They were each given two pieces of paper: red for death and green for life.
Urdaneta doesn't remember Cameron's answer. But on the few occasions he spoke up in class, it made an impression.
"He just had this respect for human dignity," she said. "He'd talk about how abortion was wrong and how all children's lives should be respected, even before birth. You could tell he was definitely a person who had a common respect for life."
John Barrineau is your typical teenager, his uncle Rob Jankowiak said. He plays video games whenever possible and loves going to the gym, a new development in the last year. He volunteers a few times a month, attends Sacred Heart Church and keeps a small group of friends. He turns 18 in August.
"He's really grown into a responsible young man," Jankowiak said.
John's parents, Mitchell, 54, and Lisa Marie Barrineau, 51, work remotely as engineers. They settled here because they fell in love with the city, said Jankowiak, 46, who has multiple sclerosis and lives with the family.
Adopted from Eastern Europe, John, his older sister and younger brother have since called Tampa home.
Jankowiak admits he didn't expect much when his good-natured nephew started working as a part-time busboy at the Tampa Yacht and Country Club at 16.
"It turns out he is a very hardworking kid," Jankowiak said. "He puts in hours and never complains about it. He was easily probably working 30 hours a week while he was going to school."
John was accepted at Florida Atlantic University next spring, so he recently enrolled at Hillsborough Community College to pick up some credits this fall. He wants to study computer engineering, a lifelong interest.
"If I ever have a computer problem, he's my support staff," Jankowiak said.
The crash has devastated the Barrineau family, Jankowiak said. John remains in custody. His parents have been able to visit just a few times. John has never been in serious trouble, his uncle said.
"It's just horrid. I can't say more than that," he said. "Everybody is just numb over it. Everybody just feels terrible for the family and the entire situation."
The family has lived in the Bayshore Beautiful neighborhood for a few years, in a stucco five-bedroom home built in 2016. The county property appraiser estimates its market value at $829,539.
Multiple calls, messages and knocks at the doors of other relatives and neighbors went unanswered.
The gold Nissan John was driving to school, and which police say was used to race Cameron on Bayshore, is registered in his father's name.
Earlier this week, John's father said the family was not ready to talk.
His uncle stressed: "He's a good kid."
The Herrins bought the Mustang from Bill Currie Ford on April 21 and registered it within a week, records show.
Built for speed, the two-door coupe has a 5-liter engine that boasts 460 horsepower.
Classmates at Tampa Catholic took notice when Cameron pulled up to school for the first time.
"A lot of people were talking about his new car," said Urdaneta, the classmate. "I mean, it was a really cool car and he was definitely excited about it … He was all about the Mustang."
The day of the crash, May 23, the Herrin brothers and Barrineau were headed to LA Fitness for a quick workout, said Carey Bond, the family friend.
Just before noon, police say, Jessica Raubenolt pushed her 21-month daughter Lillia's three-wheeled stroller down a paved ramp to cross from the water side of Bayshore Boulevard to the median near Knights Avenue. Raubenolt, who was visiting with her family from Ohio, had stepped out into the sunny morning for a walk along the water after days of rain. She and Lillia were heading back toward Raubenolt's uncle's home.
Witnesses told police they saw teen drivers racing down Bayshore, weaving through traffic. Court records citing data from the Mustang's data recorder say the car reached 102 mph, more than 2.5 times the posted speed limit, before braking hard ahead of impact.
Mother and daughter were taken to Tampa General Hospital, where Raubenolt was soon pronounced dead. Lillia died the next day.
Shortly after the crash, Bond spotted the Mustang while coaching her 15-year-old daughter through the turn off Bay to Bay Boulevard onto Bayshore.
The sun glinted into her eyes, but her gut told her it was Cameron and Tristan. She reached for her cell phone, but couldn't steady her hands long enough to dial her son's number. Instead, she yelled to her oldest daughter in the back seat to call him.
"Tell him to call Cameron right now," she said. "Tell him I think something really bad has happened."
Bond told her daughter to turn the car around. She needed to see the Mustang again. This time, she drove as slow as she could. As they rolled past the front of the Mustang the women burst into tears. Cameron Herrin was sitting in the grass at the side of the road, his knees drawn to his chest.
"He was bawling his eyes out, pale as a ghost," Bond said. "I called my son again and all I could say is, 'Cameron needs you here. Now.' "
A swarm of media, onlookers and first responders clogged Bayshore Boulevard by the time James Pardee, Bond's son, could get to his best friend and neighbor. Pardee, 18, parked his car in the median and started running when he saw police place Cameron in handcuffs, Bond recalled.
By then, Chris and Cheryl Herrin were already there. Pardee, a brawny varsity football player, wrapped both of his arms around the couple, Bond said, holding them up as they wept.
All three teens were arrested at the scene.
Cameron Herrin and Barrineau are facing the most serious charges — two counts of vehicular homicide, a second degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in state prison. Tristan is charged with knowingly riding in a car racing on the highway, a first degree misdemeanor. The Herrins are out on bail. Barrineau was booked into a juvenile detention center.
The Herrins have hired prominent Tampa attorney John Fitzgibbons to represent Cameron, who was planning to study marketing at Hillsborough Community College. He declined to make the Herrin family available for an interview and limited his own comments, citing the pending investigation.
"I know the Herrin family is suffering terribly and I understand the other family is in the midst of unimaginable grief," said Fitzgibbons, a former assistant U.S. attorney. "I can say at this point that there was no alcohol involved, there were no drugs involved and the cars stopped immediately at the scene."
Bailey, the Herrins' neighbor, said the boys are plagued by nightmares.
"They're having a hard time functioning," he said.
Bond said her son has spent every day since the accident at the Herrin's home, sometimes walking across the street to visit his friend two or three times a day. Cameron has come over for dinner only once, Bond said. He didn't want to talk about the accident, and she didn't want to ask questions.
Times senior news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Tony Marrero at email@example.com or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.
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