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Family, friends join vigil for teen girl hit by car

As the 14-year-old lies in critical condition, Plant High School classmates send messages of hope and encouragement.

By BRADY DENNIS
Published March 16, 2006


TAMPA - The vigil, with all its prayers and wishes, lasted through the night and into the next day.

At the hospital where Arielle Serrano lay in critical condition, Tuesday turned to Wednesday, and many of her friends and relatives who had rushed to her side after the accident refused to go home and rest.

On Arielle's personal Web page at MySpace.com, scores of messages appeared at all hours - 9:47 p.m., 3:24 a.m., 4:09 a.m., 6:14 a.m.

"You will be okay and I will see your smile again," one friend wrote. "Everyone is thinking of you."

Another wrote: "hey arielle ive known u for a long time and i (have) never seen u give up ... u can get through this i will pray for you." At Plant High School on Wednesday morning, students made cards for 14-year-old Arielle, her twin sister, Alexis, and her mother, Leshea Serrano, a chemistry teacher at the school. They signed a banner with notes of love and hope.

All the while, Arielle lay in a Tampa General Hospital intensive care unit, her future still uncertain.

That uncertainty began after the Plant freshman darted across Dale Mabry Highway on Tuesday afternoon and into the path of a white Ford Escort driven by Thomas Howse, a 28-year-old Army veteran.

Her friends and twin sister witnessed the crash, which happened just in front of the campus.

Police said that Howse, a certified combat lifesaver who served in Iraq, stopped just on the south side of W San Carlos Street and performed CPR on Arielle until paramedics arrived. Investigators said he was not at fault in the accident.

Wednesday marked a short school day for students at Plant because of the end of a grading period, officials said. But a somber mood permeated the few hours students were on campus.

About 40 students visited with counselors, and peer mediators sat in on classes usually taught by Leshea Serrano, said school psychologist Jim Landers.

"It's a traumatic experience for some of these students," he said.

The school also canceled a flag football game against Blake High School. Arielle, who plays on the team, had been at flag football practice shortly before the accident. She also sings in the chorus, and is known for her ever-present smile and positive outlook.

Tuesday's incident marked the latest in a series of tragedies at county schools. As many as six Hillsborough school students have died in accidents during the past two weeks, according to a district spokeswoman.

In addition, last Sunday Plant lost softball coach Sallie Scudder, a calculus and algebra teacher, to breast cancer.

But as the vigil pressed on inside TGH on Wednesday, hundreds of prayers and wishes went out in hope of a better outcome for Arielle.

Family members declined comment both through school officials and a hospital spokesman.

But Arielle's classmate J.D. Hill, 17, said the Serranos are surrounded by a large and determined support system.

"I guess they're doing okay," Hill said. "It's just rough. You hate to see that happen to a good person. I just hope everything is all right."

[Last modified March 16, 2006, 02:00:27]


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