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Honoring lives as grief lingers

A Tampa mother leans on her community and pays tribute to her sons a year after the tragic accident that killed the two boys.

By SAUNDRA AMRHEIN, Times Staff Writer
Published March 31, 2005

TAMPA - A year ago, people in the crowd needed to hold Lisa Wilkins up as she tried to reach her two dying sons in the street.

On Thursday night, marking the one-year anniversary of her sons' deaths in a hit-and-run crash, her family, friends and community honored the boys' lives and praised the strength of a grieving young mother, including her ability to stop the incident from dividing people along racial lines.

The brothers, 13-year-old Bryant Wilkins and 3-year-old Durontae Caldwell, died and their two siblings were injured as the four of them crossed 22nd Street heading home from University Area Center Complex.

Jennifer Porter, a 28-year-old schoolteacher, later came forward and admitted she was involved. She was charged with leaving the scene of a crash involving death. Her trial is scheduled for October.

Porter is white. The Wilkins family is black.

"Some people of this community tried to make Lisa rise up and say it's a black and white issue," her attorney, Tom Parnell, told a crowd of more than 60 gathered inside Peace Progressive Missionary Baptist Church in Tampa for a memorial service.

"She said, "No, it's about my children."'

When it was her turn - when the lighting of candles, the banging of tambourines and the soaring music of the gospel choirs was done - Wilkins stood up to thank her supporters.

"It's not about a black and white thing," she said once more, "it's about my kids."

Instead of counseling or medication, what sustained her after the loss of her sons was the love of her remaining children and her family, she said.

At her side was daughter Aquina, now 9, and son LaJuan Davis, now 3. Both had been injured in the wreck and recovered. Also squirming in the pew was her other son, 2-year-old Lavontre.

Wilkins held her baby, a 9-month-old girl named Heaven, at the beginning of the service. A family friend took her when Wilkins began to weep onto her father's shoulder as a trio of teens sang.

Wilkins was born in Georgia, but moved to Tampa at the age of 11 months. She dropped out of Tampa Bay Tech in the 11th grade and moved into her own apartment. She worked at a variety of jobs - security for Tampa Housing Authority, then with a credit card company - until she quit to take care of her children full time.

Wilkins says she tells other people's children to get out of the road, even if they swear at her. She's also well aware of the criticism toward her from some members of the public after the crash, who have questioned why the children were going to the park unsupervised.

"I don't care what people say about me. I know I took care of my kids," she said.

Wilkins had walked the four children to the park to watch basketball games and told them to stay there until she came back. As she was returning, she heard the commotion and ran to the scene.

[Last modified March 31, 2005, 23:47:02]

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