Boy killed near school
Steps from arriving, the 15-year-old is hit in a crosswalk by a substitute teacher's car.
By SAUNDRA AMRHEIN AND ABBIE VANSICKLE
Published December 5, 2006
From left, Camden White's mother, Michelle Bragg, uncle, Francis Bragg and grandmother, Thelma Daubar, talk near the site of the crash that killed the 15-year-old freshman Monday.
[Times photo: Skip O'Rourke]
Camden White had transferred to Brandon High School a month ago.
BRANDON - Camden Allen White left his mom as she readied for work. He stepped out into an overcast morning, bound for school on foot.
In his home, the morning news droned on the television. But 15 minutes after her son left Monday, something caught Michelle Bragg's ear: a student hit near Brandon High School.
Bragg grabbed her 3-year-old daughter. She raced in her car toward the high school a few blocks away. Sheriff's deputies blocked traffic.
Have they released the child's name yet? she asked one of them. He asked her name. When she gave it, he told her to pull over.
"I knew at that time it was my boy," she recalled later.
Camden, a freshman at Brandon High School for the past month, was struck and killed when a driver failed to stop for him in a marked crosswalk in front of the school, authorities said.
He had recently transferred to Brandon High from Tampa Bay Academy, a treatment center and school he attended for six years while grappling with attention deficit and bipolar disorders, his mother said.
No school zone
While the crosswalk was marked on the pavement and with signs, neighbors and Camden's family questioned why the street wasn't designated as a school zone with flashing yellow lights and a reduced speed limit.
"Our main concern is why this is not a school zone, right outside the main entrance," said Francis Bragg, Camden's uncle. "This is an accident that should not have happened."
Camden was crossing Victoria Street from north to south around 7:15 a.m. at a crosswalk immediately in front of the school where the speed limit is 35 mph, school officials and the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office said.
Westbound traffic stopped for him. But an eastbound Oldsmobile Alero driven by 22-year-old Kami Bell, a substitute teacher on her way to Colson Elementary School, hit him.
Bell had not been charged by the end of the day Monday, according to the Sheriff's Office. The office did not immediately reveal how fast Bell was driving. State law requires drivers to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks.
Offenses on her record
Bell's driving record reveals past problems. She was cited but not convicted for a 2002 crash and convicted in connection with a 2005 crash, where she was accused of failing to yield the right of way. Earlier this year, she got a speeding ticket for driving 60 mph in a 45 mph zone, state records show.
A man at her home who identified himself as her father refused to comment but did say she was on her way to teach this morning as a substitute at Colson Elementary.
County officials say it's more common to have school zones in front of elementary schools, where a large percentage of students walk to school.
Still, the county is in the process of implementing a plan to put school zone and speed limit signs at every public and private elementary, middle and high school located on a county road, said Gary Tait, who manages the county's bicycle, pedestrian and school safety program. The priority for the project, which costs about $600,000 a year, was elementary schools.
Brandon High in future
Brandon High is on the county's list for road improvements, including a decreased speed limit during school hours, flashing warning lights and other school zone markings, Tait said.
But he does not know when. Officials have not yet hired contractors for the Brandon High changes, he added.
Bell, a 2002 Brandon High graduate, was hired by the school district on July 26, and was making $7.97 an hour, officials said.
Principal Karen Lynch said Bell was covering for a first-grade teacher on Friday and Monday. But she called Monday morning and said she'd been in a crash.
"She thought her car was totaled and she wouldn't be making it in," Lynch said.
Hours after the crash, her car remained at the scene, dented but not destroyed.
In the opposite direction sat the GMC Jimmy sport utility vehicle where Camden landed. Its windshield was splintered.
Carmen Freytis of Brandon, the SUV driver, was still shaking about the wreck Monday afternoon at her daughter's home. She said she thinks she passed Camden on Meade Street as he walked to school. After Freytis dropped off her daughter, a sophomore, she circled around and was headed west on Victoria Street, stopped behind another car at the crosswalk.
The next second, Camden crashed against her windshield.
"I put the car in park and called 911," she said.
Too afraid to get out of her SUV, she called her adult daughter, screaming, and watched as passers-by tried to help Camden, who had fallen to the ground.
She thinks the stretch of Victoria in front of the school needs flashing lights and a reduced speed limit.
Neighbors also said the area is overdue for traffic safety measures.
Jose Class, 63, who lives in front of the crash site, said he sees fender benders and speeding all the time.
"They go by here sometimes 60 to 70 mph," he said.
Since December, deputies have investigated four crashes there, a sheriff's spokeswoman said. The year before, there were seven crashes. Of the 11 accidents, two people reported injuries. There were no fatalities.
Class' granddaughter, 19-year-old Amanda Santana, is a senior at the high school. She didn't know Camden, but she uses the same crosswalk he did.
She was running late Monday morning and arrived moments after the crash to see Camden on the ground, surrounded by people.
"If I had been five minutes earlier," Amanda said, "it would have been me."
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Saundra Amrhein can be reached at 813 661-2441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
[Last modified December 5, 2006, 00:27:44]
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