One dies, another clings to life
By CHRIS TISCH and ALICIA CALDWELL
In the road, two cars were at a standstill. A book bag was wedged underneath one of them. Nearby, a bicycle had been torn in two. A white tennis shoe lay nearby, next to a pile of clothes.
Behind the cars, a yellow tarp covered the body of 18-year-old Ervis Sefa. His younger brother, 14-year-old Almarin Sefa, already was in an emergency helicopter, fighting for his life.
Earlier Friday morning the brothers, perched on a single bicycle, pedaled into the southbound lanes of Missouri Avenue.
In the darkness, a black Ford Fiesta hit the bike about 6:30 a.m., sending the brothers sprawling to the ground. Stunned, they tried to get to their feet, Largo police said.
But a second car, a maroon Cutlass Ciera, struck the brothers. The impact killed Ervis instantly. Almarin suffered serious injuries. He was taken by helicopter to Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg and then transferred to All Children's Hospital in critical condition.
"It's touch and go," said Largo police Sgt. Butch Ward.
The boys' family members, including their father, Sulejman Sefa, began arriving as the sun rose. They wept and hugged as police officers and a chaplain consoled them. Police later led the family to the hospital to be with Almarin.
The brothers were riding to Largo High School from their home about a mile away on Ninth Avenue NW. Their routine was to catch a bus from there to Pinellas Park High School to attend an English as a Second Language program. The Albanian boys came to America about a year ago.
Ervis pedaled. Almarin rode the handlebars.
Largo High School principal Barbara Thornton said it is not unusual for students to ride their bikes to school, though she usually sees no more than 15 bikes parked there each day. Most students ride the bus or are dropped off by parents for a 7:20 a.m. start.
She said a few students come there to ride the bus to other schools for special programs.
The brothers also crossed at an intersection with no traffic light or crosswalk. The intersection at Largo High School -- which is about 200 paces from where the crash occurred -- does have a light and a crosswalk.
Police would not release the names of the drivers. The Times reached the wife of one of the drivers, who said her husband was too upset to talk.
Neither driver was cited Friday, though the investigation is ongoing. Neither driver showed any signs of impairment, and speed did not appear to be a factor, police said.
Police were searching for witnesses to the crash, including someone in a third car that they think may have hit part of the bicycle and then driven off.
That driver is not facing charges, police said.
As investigators sorted out the crash, family members and friends were mourning one death and praying they wouldn't have to mourn another.
Family members were sequestered at All Children's Hospital. The boys are the only children of Sulejman and Olga Sefa, a school official said.
The news hit hard in the county's Albanian community, which numbers in the thousands. Neim Abdullaj, who until recently was president of the Albanian Islamic Cultural Center in Clearwater, said he was mustering help for them.
"I called some restaurants owned by Albanians," Abdullaj said. "They will have food. We will try to help. It is a big tragedy."
The dark-haired brothers were popular at Pinellas Park High School, said school administrators and friends. Both were straight-A students who spoke virtually flawless English, despite having come to this country only a year ago, said Carol Madura, the high school's crisis intervention counselor.
"They were very, very bright, motivated and focused," Madura said. "Everything you'd hope your kids would be."
Ervis, a senior, took tough courses such as physics and trigonometry. He was an excellent chess player. Both Ervis and his brother, a freshman, played soccer, though not on the high school team.
The boys were well-liked by other students. Ervis had taken three girls to the prom, Madura said.
"Ervis was a good-looking kid, and the girls liked him," Madura said.
Freddy Navarro, 16, a junior, said he played community soccer with Ervis on Wednesday nights. Navarro, who has played on the high school team, had encouraged Ervis to come out for the team.
"Actually, last week I asked him if he wanted to be on the soccer team, and he said he couldn't because he had to work," Navarro said. "He was really good."
Both Navarro and Robert Espina, 17, a sophomore at Pinellas Park, said Ervis was an outgoing, especially cordial guy.
"He was a nice person, always talking with everybody," Espina said. "I can't believe this happened."
Ervis' death was the second of a Pinellas Park student in a week. Last weekend, Matt Brassill, 18, a senior, died in Ybor City after a late-night scuffle.
Counselors talked with students Friday.
"It's almost numbing when you deal with one tragedy and then another," said Denise Hart, Pinellas Park High's principal. "It's hard to express it in words when you lose a student."
-- Times researchers Caryn Baird and John Martin contributed to this report. Chris Tisch can be reached at 445-4156 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111
From the Times
local news desks