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Crash leaves Valrico reeling

Seven teens are injured and the driver dies after losing control when his tire hits a concrete median.

By RICK GERSHMAN and KEVIN GRAHAM
Published October 9, 2006


photo
[Times photos: Ken Helle]
Classmates of Tyler Clark and students injured in the wreck early Sunday gather at the crash site Sunday evening.
Update: 'A lot of the kids are affected'

A T-shirt and gold medallion show Clark, 17, who died less than a mile from his high school after being thrown from his Jeep.

VALRICO - Eight tiny, yellow flags peppered about 25 yards of Bloomingdale Avenue roadside Sunday evening, each marking the spot where a teenager's body landed.

Some were close, some far from the gashed silver oak that Tyler Clark's Jeep ran into early Sunday, throwing out people like dolls.

The tree was turned into an impromptu shrine to the 17-year-old Clark, who died in the wreck. Seven others riding with him were injured, some severely.

About 12:20 a.m., Clark was riding with Bloomingdale High classmates in his open-top 1995 Jeep when its tire brushed a newly constructed concrete median. He lost control, sending the SUV hard right, down an embankment and into the tree.

Clark died at the scene, off Bloomingdale Avenue just east of Bell Shoals Road, less than a mile west of the high school.

Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office officials said they had no indication that alcohol or excessive speed played any role in the accident.

The crash left several of his passengers, all Valrico residents between 15 and 17 years old, with serious injuries. Six of the seven remained hospitalized late Sunday night.

Cody Neimeier, 16, was listed in critical condition Sunday night at Tampa General Hospital. Angela Canessa, 16, was in critical condition early Sunday, but no late update on her condition was available.

Christopher Terlizza, 15, was in stable condition at Tampa General, while Brooke Tappen, 15, Shane Hadsell, 16, and Ryan Caldwell 17, all were in stable condition at St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa.

Morgan Blavek, 16, of Valrico was released from Tampa General on Sunday.

Classmates Elysa Roman and Ashley Endres said they visited their friends at the hospitals Sunday and were aghast at the range and seriousness of the injuries, from broken bones and cracked ribs to collapsed lungs and various levels of head trauma.

The Clark family had no comment Sunday night and had a Do Not Disturb sign on their door at Monte Lake Drive.

Clark's friends flocked to his MySpace Web page to leave messages.

Some friends who congregated at the crash site Sunday wore silk-screened T-shirts bearing Clark's name, his picture and 1989-2006. Many also wore gold medallions with his picture on them.

The picture is the same as one on his MySpace page.

In the photo, Tyler is wearing a cowboy hat and leaning against the chrome bumper of his shiny, forest green Jeep, arms folded across his chest. "Shoulda been a cowboy," he wrote in the caption.

Hillsborough School District spokesman Stephen Hegarty said counselors would be at Bloomingdale High this morning to help students deal with their grief.

The accident will affect almost the entire school, said Endres, 17, a senior who is a friend of several of the crash victims.

"Pretty much everyone hangs with everyone" at Bloomingdale, she said. "Everyone knew someone who was in that crash."

Roman, 16 and also a senior, was hanging out with Clark and the group at a nearby McDonald's just a half-hour before the accident. She said she thought Clark might have been momentarily distracted with so many people in the vehicle and forgot about the new median.

"They had too many people in the (Jeep)," said Roman.

Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Debbie Carter said none of the teens was wearing a seat belt.

Roman said she had two good friends die earlier this year; one died in an auto accident while not wearing a seat belt.

"I always wear my seat belt now," said Roman, who wants the survivors of Sunday's crash to follow suit: "I hope they can learn from this."

Said Endres: "I hope everyone learns from this."

Staff writer Ken Helle contributed to this report. Rick Gershman can be reached at (813) 226-3431 or rgershman@sptimes.com Kevin Graham can be reached at (813) 226-3433 or kgraham@sptimes.com.

[Last modified October 9, 2006, 01:17:06]


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