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'Angel' plucks boy from sunken car

Seven year-old Amar Jakupovic was trapped after his family's SUV flipped over a Howard Frankland guardrail.

By CARRIE JOHNSON
Published November 5, 2005


ST. PETERSBURG - Kerry Reardon was teaching his 15-year-old daughter to drive on the Howard Frankland Bridge Saturday when brake lights suddenly flashed on in front of them.

"I told her to get used to it," said Reardon, 43, of St. Petersburg. "This type of thing happens on the bridge all the time."

But as they drove on, Reardon saw debris from a car scattered by the bridge's guard rail. He knew a car had gone over the edge into the water.

He told his daughter to pull over and looked over the edge.

"I saw the bubbles," Reardon said. "Someone was still down there."

He plunged headfirst into the murky water.

Mujo Jakupovic and his wife, Amira, had been driving east from St. Petersburg on the Howard Frankland at about 1 p.m. with their sons, 13-year-old Emrah and 7-year-old Amar. About 200 yards from the end of the bridge, the left rear tire of their green, 1998 Ford Explorer Sport blew out. The car struck the inside wall, said Cpl. Jim Atwood of the Florida Highway Patrol.

The car bounced across four lanes of traffic, rolling over before flipping over the side of the bridge, Atwood said.

Father, mother and teenage son immediately escaped from the car. But the younger son was still inside.

Tampa resident Kenny Hyatt saw the accident from his boat, where he was fishing with a few friends. He steered over toward the family to pick them up.

Tampa Fire Rescue spokesman Capt. Bill Wade said the car fell about 14 feet into nine feet of water. But there was so much debris, none of the fishermen could see the car.

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Reardon, a St. Petersburg native, used to dive off bridges as a young man to catch stone crabs. He knew he would avoid the swiftly-moving current if he dove deep enough.

Reardon couldn't find the car on his first dive. He came up for a gulp of air. On the second dive, he spotted the boy in the submerged car.

"He was just sitting there like a little rag doll," Reardon said. "I unbuckled him, pulled him out of the car and gave him his first breath of life."

As Reardon swam with the boy toward the fishing boat, a crowd was gathering on the bridge. Among them was Kelly Earle, 25, a registered nurse from Bayfront Hospital.

Earle was on her way to a baby shower for one of the physicians at Bayfront. She drove closer to see if anyone needed medical assistance.

She watched Reardon dive into the bay. But she couldn't see into the water because of the glare.

"All of a sudden, this little Adidas cleat came floating up," Earle said. "That's when we knew he had the boy."

Earle jumped into the water, knowing the child would probably need medical help. She swam to the fishing boat and began CPR.

She doesn't really remember plunging into the water.

"It was pure adrenaline," said Earle, who works in Bayfront's obstetrics department. "I couldn't tell you what the temperature of the water was. It could have been fire for all I know."

Amar, dressed in his soccer clothes, was unconscious and his pulse was weak. As Earle continued CPR, Hyatt steered the boat toward shore, where an ambulance was waiting.

The father and 13-year-old boy also needed medical attention.Paramedics rushed them to Tampa General Hospital. The mother was unharmed.

As of late Saturday, the younger boy was in critical condition. Mujo Jakupovic and his older son were both in fair condition.

The family could not be reached for comment Saturday night.

Reardon's wife, Debbie, is certain fate drew her husband to the crash. He planned to spend his weekend competing in a kingfishing tournament off John's Pass but withdrew at the last minute because he didn't catch enough bait.

An act of bravery isn't out of character. In fact, the family teasingly calls him "Rambo."

"Someone definitely put him there," said Debbie Reardon. "He was meant to be somebody's angel."

Rescuers also praised Reardon and Earle for preventing an even greater tragedy. Without their help, they said, the boy probably would not have a chance for survival.

"As bad as this situation was, everything came together to make it as good as it could possibly be," Wade said. "It was definitely a case of the right people in the right place at the right time."

But Earle and Reardon were reluctant to claim any credit.

Reardon said he just wants people to pray for Amar. Earle said she'll feel better when the boy is home again with his family.

"Thankfully, everybody was in the right place," Earle said. "I just hope that it was enough."

Carrie Johnson can be reached at 727 892-2273 or cjohnson@sptimes.com

[Last modified November 5, 2005, 21:13:02]


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