Sunday, May 4, 2008

Rollover kills unbelted boy and pregnant mother

BRADENTON A two-vehicle accident on State Road 64 in Manatee County this morning has left a pregnant woman and her child dead, highway patrol officials say.

The accident happened about 7:50 a.m. when a westbound SUV carrying the pregnant woman, another woman and seven children was cut off by an eastbound car making a left turn on S.R. 64 at 48th Street Court East, Florida Highway Patrol officials said.

Friday started off as a typically busy day for Christi Charles.

The pregnant single mother of seven children got everyone up and dressed, and loaded her six youngest into her 2002 Ford Expedition SUV.

The children needed to be dropped off at school in west Bradenton, and Charles, an assistant manager at the Kentucky Fried Chicken on Cortez Road, had to be in at 9 a.m. to prep the store for opening.

By the time she got on State Road 64, they were joined by a KFC co-worker and another youngster.

Most of the nine people in the SUV put on their seat belts, including a 2-year-old who was strapped in a child seat.

But apparently, Charles, 33, and her 10-year-old son, Christopher, did not buckle up. That oversight, police say, proved fatal when their SUV was hit by a car turning left off S.R. 64 at 48th Street Court East about 8 a.m.

The SUV rolled into the median, and Charles and her son were ejected. Christopher was pinned beneath the vehicle after it rolled. Both died at the scene.

None of the others in the SUV had life-threatening injuries; the driver of the car that collided with the SUV was also not seriously injured.

At the crash scene, shoes, papers and backpacks were thrown from the Expedition after it rolled onto its top. The vehicle's windows were shattered.

The crash shut down eastbound lanes of S.R. 64 for more than two hours as Florida Highway Patrol troopers investigated the wreck.

The other adult SUV passenger was Michelle Glass, 28, of Bradenton. The other children in the car who survived were Heather Charles, 13; Nicklaus Charles, 9; Brian Crowl, 7; Eduardo Charles, 6; Sandra Charles, 5; and Alejandro Charles, 2.

Family members and friends of the victims gathered at Manatee Memorial Hospital, consoling each other with long hugs.

Charles, who lived in Heritage Harbour, east of Interstate 75, was headed for Moody Elementary in Bradenton, which Christopher attended.

She had worked at the KFC restaurant in the 8000 block of Cortez Road West for 18 years.

"She was like a sister to me," KFC employee Michael Twiss said. "She was a great, happy, outgoing person."

Authorities say Charles and the driver blamed for the crash, Christine E. Crews, 43, of Palmetto, both had green lights.

Crews' Toyota sedan struck the Expedition on its left rear side in the right westbound lane of S.R. 64, near the entrance to the Braden River Lakes community.

An FHP sergeant, William Pascoe, said Crews was shaken up by the wreck. "This is very traumatic for her," he said.

Crews was cited for violating the right of way of the SUV. Criminal charges are not likely, Pascoe said. Crews, reached Friday night, declined to comment.

Pascoe said Crews, who was eastbound, likely misjudged the distance of the oncoming vehicle or did not see it. In the morning, the rising sun is directly in the eyes of eastbound drivers on S.R. 64 East.

'A good boy'

At Christopher's school, Moody Elementary, Principal Tom Wailand said his staff was upset, particularly Christopher's teacher. Wailand phoned the parents of the boy's fourth-grade classmates late Friday to break the news.

"He was a very well-liked young man, a lot of friends, an industrious student," Wailand said. "He was a good boy; I was glad to have him in class."

When school resumes on Monday, the district will have crisis counselors and psychologists on site to help students deal with their grief.

Christi Charles and Reyes Charles Jr. were married about 15 years and had seven children before divorcing last year, Reyes Charles Sr. said.

Christi was described as outspoken and a strong mother who adored her children and did everything within her means to provide for them.

Reyes Charles Sr. did not know if Christi routinely wore a seat belt.

He hung his head in sorrow as he spoke, lost in reflection.

"When things like this happen, it's like you don't believe it," said Charles, a plant worker at Callaghan Tire in Bradenton. "Then you realize it's true. Then you think no, no."

Even after Christi and his son had divorced, she remained close to Charles Sr. and his wife. "I know my son is going to be devastated," he said.

Charles Sr. said Christi had a big heart.

When he recently could not afford to buy medication that cost about $100, she gave him the money and told him not to pay it back.

Christopher, he said, was a happy child.

"He was funny," his grandpa said, adding that the boy liked to joke and play tricks on people.

Family friend Carol Griffith of Bradenton said Charles adored her children.

"She loved her family," said Griffith, who had known Charles and her ex-husband for about 15 years. "This was not supposed to happen. What a loss."

Police see lesson in wreck

As authorities expressed sympathy, they were also bothered that not everyone in the Expedition was buckled up. According to the Web site, the 2002 Expedition has seating, and seat belts, for nine people.

"It's a tragedy that possibly could have been avoided," FHP Capt. John Baumann said at the scene.

A Manatee County sheriff's deputy called the deaths "senseless."

In 2006, authorities reported 2,103 vehicle fatalities in Florida in vehicles equipped with safety belts.

About 1,300 people -- nearly 62 percent -- were not wearing safety belts, according to state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicle reports.

Seat belts will not help in some crashes, depending on angle of impact and speed, said Wiley L. Howell, a former Tampa police officer who has reconstructed accidents for more than 30 years.

At high speed, the chance of a car flipping after being struck on the side increases significantly, Howell said.

And death is more likely for a person who is thrown from a vehicle than for someone who is belted in.

"The person is going to be shot out like a cannon" if not wearing a seat belt, Howell said. Windows often shatter after high-speed crashes, he said, so they do not prevent people from being ejected.

In Florida, front-seat occupants must wear seat belts regardless of age. State law holds drivers responsible for passengers under 18 who are not strapped in, according to the DOT. Children 6 to 17 must be buckled up. The penalty is a $30 fine.

People do not wear belts for a variety of reasons, Howell said. Some are in a hurry, while others feel claustrophobic.

Every year, authorities hold safety campaigns to alert drivers to the benefits of wearing seat belts. But Howell said many drivers do not think about the consequences.

"Nobody ever thinks it's going to happen to them," Howell said Friday.

Troopers could only speculate about why Charles and her 10-year-old son were not buck-led up.

One trooper said Charles, who was seven months' pregnant, might have found wearing a seat belt uncomfortable.

Herald-Tribune staff writer Christopher O'Donnell contributed to this report


Anonymous said...

the crash was on may 2nd not the 4th get your facts straight.

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