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'These girls were special'

Bright futures died along with three college girlfriends in a puzzling I-75 crash, mourners say.

Published September 13, 2005

TAMPA - Tiara Simmons was talking to her friend Andromeda Spencer on her cell phone Sunday when she heard a scream and the call cut off.

She immediately tried to call back Spencer and four other Tampa friends who were riding back to Tallahassee together for college.

No one answered.

"I had all their numbers and I called all of them," Simmons said. "I left messages on each cell phone."

What Simmons did not know was that her friends' Nissan Altima had careened out of control and crashed into a concrete support under an overpass along Interstate 75 in Pasco County.

Spencer, who turned 20 on Friday, died in the crash along with 2004 Middleton High School valedictorian Alana Williams, 19, and Viquilla Troupe, 18, who aspired to be an athlete and doctor.

Twin sisters Audrick and Alrick Drummond survived. Audrick remained in serious condition Monday at St. Joseph's Hospital. Alrick, who was driving, was treated and released on Sunday.

The girls had been in Tampa for the weekend and were headed to Tallahassee, where four attended Florida State University. Alrick Drummond goes to Florida A&M University.

Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Larry Coggins said Monday that investigators "have a long way to go" before they know what caused the student to lose control of the car. But alcohol is not suspected.

"I want to send my condolences to the other families," Audrick Drummond said in a statement released by a hospital spokesperson. "They were like sisters to me. I loved them so much. I feel their pain."

The friends met through the Youth Opportunity Movement program at the Audrey Spotford Center in Tampa's College Hill neighborhood. The program, which is part of the Corporation to Develop Communities of Tampa, provides tutoring, mentoring and other services for teenagers.

Counselor Jariesha Carter, 27, became like a second mother to the girls - especially to Andromeda Spencer.

Carter took Spencer to FSU when she enrolled in the summer of 2004. Her first FSU report card, three A-minuses and a 3.75 grade point average, still hangs in the center.

"When she first came, she was very shy, very timid," Carter said. "We had to force her to eat. She wasn't, per se, a speaker, but she blossomed into that leader who could give a speech."

Tiara Simmons and others met at the Spotford Center to talk about their friends Monday. They talked about how the girls made school a priority, not only for themselves but also for their friends.

"We would try to get them to go out, but school always came first," Ashley Troupe said. "They were excellent students. More kids should try to be like them."

All five girls, except Viquilla Troupe, who moved to Tampa after graduating from high school in Texas, were members of the Eastern Star, a sister organization of the Masons.

Spencer was preparing to create a chapter of the Eastern Star so she could involve more young women.

"I was the oldest, but she even kept me straight," said Lauren Jones, a sophomore at the University of South Florida. "If I was going to do something wrong, she would say, "You ain't going to do that."'

Alana Williams, the Middleton High valedictorian, was described by officials as outgoing and friendly.

Carter, the counselor, said she was a character who could calculate numbers in an instant.

Troupe was hoping to make the Florida State track team as a high jumper. She also was a cheerleader, played basketball and ran cross-country in high school. Like Spencer, she had her sights set on becoming a doctor.

"Let's face it, people usually say nice things when you die, but these girls were special," said Coleman Bell, an administrator at the Spotford Center. "They were the kind of girls you would want your sons to marry."

Simmons had seen Spencer just hours before the accident. Before she left, they hugged and said, "See you later." The two always refused to say goodbye.

"She hugged me so tight it was like a grip," Simmons said. "She had never hugged me before for that long. It was something I had never experienced before.

"I'm still waiting for them to call me from Tallahassee and say they got there okay. I woke up every 30 minutes last night hoping the phone would ring."

[Last modified September 13, 2005, 04:59:07]

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