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    Mother dies after pushing her baby out of car's way

    The 7-month-old child is unharmed and in a relative's care after the fatal accident.

    By DONG-PHUONG NGUYEN, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published August 20, 2002

    TAMPA -- Lynda Cenatus devoted her life to her baby. The single mother took him everywhere, including a short stroll to a fast food restaurant Sunday night.

    Lynda Cenatus died after pushing her son out of the way of a moving car only to get hit herself.
    [Times photo: Ken Helle]
    Sergeley Pierre naps in his carrier Monday. He will be raised by his aunt.
    But mother and child never made it. Cenatus was struck and killed by a drunken driving suspect, but not before saving her 7-month-old son.

    Cenatus, 27, pushed the stroller out of the way moments before she was hit on Fowler Avenue, witnesses said Monday. Baby and stroller were unscathed.

    "It's a miracle," said Esy Amroei, the owner of the Texaco Station at the corner of Fowler Avenue and N 17th Street, where Cenatus was hit. "The baby and stroller, not a scratch. But she couldn't save herself."

    Friends and family said Cenatus placed Sergeley Pierre in his blue stroller about 8:30 p.m. Sunday and left her apartment building for a walk to the Taco Bell down the street.

    Neighbor Sherry Davis, familiar with Cenatus' limited English skills, greeted mother and son and tried to communicate with her through simple words and gestures.

    "I like your ponytail," Davis told Cenatus, pointing to her hair. "Nice shoes too."

    She pointed to Cenatus' new Nikes.

    Cenatus, a Haitian immigrant, smiled.

    "Thank you."

    Davis waved goodbye as Cenatus walked through the parking lot, past an opening in a back fence of the Carlisle Lakes Apartments and disappeared down N 17th Street.

    About a half-mile down the dark street, Cenatus reached busy Fowler Avenue. The Taco Bell sat eight lanes ahead of her.

    She started to cross the westbound lanes.

    Witnesses said Cenatus saw the car but could not dodge it. She pushed the stroller out of the way and was hit.

    Morteza Daemy, who was training two employees at the Texaco station, said a woman pumping gas ran into the store and screamed for him to call for help.

    Passers-by tried to aid Cenatus, but she lay on the ground not moving, Daemy said.

    "Somebody took the baby out of the stroller and they were hugging the baby," Daemy said. "The baby was quiet."

    Meanwhile, the driver of the car, 35-year-old Mario Luna Zertuche, returned to the scene of the accident, got out of his 1987 Toyota Supra and sat down on the sidewalk and watched, Daemy said.

    Zertuche was arrested and charged with DUI/serious injury. He failed a field sobriety test, police spokeswoman Katie Hughes said.

    Cenatus died at Tampa General Hospital about 2 a.m. Monday, so the charge is expected to be upgraded, Hughes said.

    Police called Cenatus' cousin, Minette St. Fleur, at her Haitian food market off of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. She drove to the site, and took Sergeley.

    St. Fleur, who shared an apartment with Cenatus, will now raise the boy.

    "I can't believe it," St. Fleur said Monday as little Sergeley slept in a car seat inside her store. "Nobody can believe it."

    St. Fleur notified Cenatus' parents in Haiti, where she had lived up until last year.

    "Of course, everybody is sad," she said.

    Cenatus was remembered as a loving friend and doting mother who enjoyed playing blackjack on a relative's computer. She was hoping for a work permit so that she could find a job, relatives said.

    She wanted a good life in America for herself and her son.

    St. Fleur remembered asking Cenatus if she was okay raising a child without a father.

    "You happy?" St. Fleur asked her.

    "Yes," Cenatus answered. "It's my baby."

    Now St. Fleur said she will raise Sergeley with the same devotion.

    "Lynda was my family," St. Fleur said. "I have to take care of this baby like my baby."

    -- Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report.

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