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In hiding, father bears grief, guilt

Kevin Wolfe saw his child die under his car, then fled after a probation violation. He vows he won't be jailed before her funeral.

By CHRIS TISCH
Published May 29, 2004

[Times photo: Scott Keeler]
Michelle and Kevin Wolfe talk Friday about their daughter Summer, 2, who was killed by a car the father allowed a 12-year-old boy to drive. They were staying at a Budget Inn in St. Petersburg because Kevin is trying to avoid being arrested before the child's funeral. They had placed Summer's photos on the picture behind them.

photo
[Special to the Times]
Summer Wolfe holds a favorite doll last Christmas. "She was so smart," her mother says.
[Times photo: Scott Keeler]
Kevin Wolfe weeps Friday as he describes how his daughter Summer died after being run over by the wheel of his car last Saturday. "That image will never leave my head," he says.

LARGO - Kevin Wolfe wants to attend his 2-year-old daughter's funeral.

He admits her death under the wheel of his car last weekend was his fault. He admits he smoked marijuana after learning she was dead, violating his probation. He knows he is wanted by authorities.

But for the last several days, Wolfe has been living in hotel rooms, dodging his probation officer and keeping an eye out for police.

He wants to remain free until Wednesday, so he can join his wife and three other children at his daughter's funeral. Then he will turn himself in, he said.

"I don't particularly care if I go to jail for the rest of my life," Wolfe said Friday. "They can't hurt me any more than I hurt. Ever. Nobody can hate me more than I hate myself.

"I just want to bury my daughter before they take me to jail," he added. "That's all I want."

His youngest child, Summer, was run over after Wolfe allowed a 12-year-old boy to drive his car. Authorities are deciding whether Wolfe will be charged with a crime in connection with his daughter's death.

Two days after the accident, Wolfe failed a drug test. He admitted smoking marijuana after Summer died to "get numb." Warrants for felony probation violation were issued Wednesday. A judge ordered Wolfe held without bail upon arrest.

Authorities say Wolfe should turn himself in and ask a judge to grant him a furlough to attend the service.

"I have seen that happen before," said Joe Papy, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Corrections. "That's something he should have done early on instead of becoming a fugitive from justice."

Wolfe said in an interview with the Times Friday that he is scared that he would have to attend in handcuffs.

"That's not how I want my children to see me," he said.

Wolfe and his wife, Michelle, spent Thursday night at the Budget Inn, 800 34th St. N. They hung photos of Summer and lay in bed clutching her favorite blanket and Blues Clues pillow. Their surviving children are staying with family members.

Before they checked out of the hotel Friday morning, they spent a couple of hours talking about Summer.

They said she was a bright and ambitious child. She crawled and walked faster than most children, and her speech was fluid and intelligent.

She was a little bit bossy and a lot independent. She was petite at little more than 30 pounds.

"I thought she was going to be beautiful," her mother said. "I thought she was going to make me proud. She was so smart."

Last Saturday, Summer made her first successful trip to the potty, high-fiving her mom when she was done. Later that day, she was outside her Largo apartment, 2175 62nd St. N, with her father.

One of the neighbor kids was having a birthday party. Wolfe planned to move his car out of the parking lot so the kids could play kickball. A 12-year-old boy asked Wolfe if he could drive.

Wolfe, 30, said he told the boy no several times, then changed his mind. "I didn't see the harm in him backing up a little bit," he said.

Summer was sitting on a curb about 15 feet away from the family's Ford Taurus. She stood up as Wolfe started toward his car. He told her: "I'm not going anywhere." She sat back down.

The boy slid into the driver's seat. Wolfe sat on the passenger side, keeping the door open and one leg hanging out. Wolfe helped the boy turn the steering wheel to the left.

Wolfe told the boy to press the brake, shift into reverse and stay off the gas. They started to move. Wolfe felt Summer touch his leg and told the boy to stop.

"I felt the car lunge so he must have hit the gas," Wolfe said. "The door knocked her down."

As the car moved backward and turned, the front wheel headed for Summer.

"I felt the bump and prayed to God it was her arm or her leg," Wolfe said.

Wolfe put the car in park and told the boy to get out. He saw Summer on the ground. "Blood was coming out of her ears and her nose," he said.

Wolfe yelled for someone to call 911, but his voice was weak and tight. He left Summer to call 911 himself, then returned to kneel over her.

"She came to once," he said. "I don't think she saw anything, but she looked at me and started shaking and spit blood out of her mouth onto me. That image will never leave my head."

Paramedics took Summer to Bayfront Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead.

"I know it's my fault," Wolfe said Friday.

Later that day, a neighbor offered him a drink. Wolfe craved a marijuana cigarette. He had one not long after.

Two days later, Wolfe's probation officer called and told him to come in for a random drug test.

Probation officials wondered if Wolfe had taken drugs before the accident. They also received anonymous tips that Wolfe had done drugs, Papy said.

Wolfe admitted he smoked marijuana. His urine tested positive for drugs and he was told to wait in the lobby.

Wolfe claims he got the impression he was free to leave, but Papy said Wolfe fled. When his probation officer went to his apartment to arrest him, no one answered the door.

The officer returned twice, once with Pinellas deputies. Wolfe said he darted out the back. He went into hiding, switching hotels each night.

The warrant is now in the hands of fugitive detectives with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. They could not be reached Friday.

If they want to find him, Wolfe made it clear where he'll be at 1 p.m. Wednesday: St. Paul's United Methodist Church. He says he hopes deputies will let him attend the service, after which he will turn himself in or seek mental health treatment.

Neither sheriff's nor probation officials would say if they will be at the funeral.

Meanwhile, prosecutors plan to meet that day with Largo police to review the accident.

Prosecutors will consider charging Wolfe, who has never had a driver's license, with culpable negligence, a second-degree felony with a prison sentence of up to 15 years, said Bruce Bartlett, the chief assistant state attorney.

Wolfe's criminal history in his native Pennsylvania includes charges of assault and endangering child welfare, filed in 2002 after authorities found his girlfriend's 3-year-old son with bruises on his body, cigarette burns on his neck and two broken ribs. Wolfe said he pleaded guilty to avoid prison time.

Still, Bartlett said he thinks a judge would allow Wolfe to attend the funeral if he turned himself in.

Wolfe isn't willing to take that chance.

"They're gonna have to shoot me," he said. "I'm going to it."

[Last modified May 29, 2004, 01:00:33]


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