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Driver charged with DUI still on the road driving

By THOMAS LAKE and JULIA KUMARI DRAPKIN
Published May 31, 2007


PORT RICHEY - This story comes down to four vivid images.

A vial of blood swirling with narcotics.

A blossom of scar tissue on a girl's ankle.

A mother sitting at the dining room table, smashing her fist into her palm.

And two baby-blue bicycles sitting riderless on the patio.

It began on a relatively hot day in January, in a little house on Mark Twain Lane, when the children heard the beckoning song of an ice cream truck.

Can we go get some? said Carlie Alejandro, who is 11, and her mother, Nitza Sanchez, eventually said yes. They went down the driveway: her own three children and two nieces and another friend. Sanchez went with them to make sure they were safe.

But the phone rang, and she went inside to pick up.

The ice cream truck was actually a van, vanilla white with a red sign on the back that said STOP FOR CHILDREN. The driver was Eduardo Alequin, 51. The girls stepped inside and made their selections. Carlie ordered a Big Foot Sour Cherry Popsicle, which is actually foot-shaped and has a purple gumball for the big toe.

She paid the money.

He set it on the counter.

And then a white Ford sedan plowed into the rear bumper.

The impact sent the van's door sliding. It hit Carlie in head and knocked her unconscious. She and three other girls were thrown to the sidewalk in a tumbling heap.

The ice-cream man came awake on the floor and he felt the van rolling. He crawled to the front and pressed the brake with his hand.

Nitza Sanchez heard the crash and ran outside. She saw the mangled car. She saw Carlie lying still.

God! she screamed. Don't take my daughter!

The car's driver was Donald Kenneth Tappin, 46. He tried to run away, according to Alequin, but was surrounded by vigilant neighbors. Sanchez approached him, yelling in Spanish, and officials pulled her away.

They may not have known what she was saying to him:

"God have mercy on you."

Four girls were taken to local hospitals with relatively minor injuries: Daisha Garcia, 7; Marylis Sanchez, 11, Genesis Alejandro, 9; and her sister Carlie, who was hurt worst. Doctors closed her head wound with staples. Much of the skin from her lower left leg had been scraped away.

Back to those four images.

1. The vial of blood was drawn from Tappin, the Ford's driver, and sent to a state crime lab. The test results came back in April. According to a report from the Florida Highway Patrol, it contained as many as eight different drugs, including cocaine, morphine and methadone. Tappin, of 7811 Treasure Pointe Drive, Port Richey, was charged Tuesday with DUI, a misdemeanor. He posted $1,000 bail early Wednesday and got out of jail.

2. The clump of scar tissue is still on Carlie's ankle. It is pink and conspicuous. She might need surgery to have it removed. Alequin, the ice cream man, says he still has back pain from the crash that makes him lose feeling in his legs when he sits too long.

3. The mother is Sanchez, of course, and she smashes her palm to simulate the sound of the crash, but also because she is angry. This was not Tappin's first DUI: He pleaded no contest to another one in 2004. "Who will be the next victim?" she said.

4. The bicycles were given to Carlie and Genesis for Christmas in 2005. They have scarcely been ridden since the crash. Sanchez doesn't want her children going anywhere near the road. Carlie doesn't argue.

"I don't want to ride it no more, " she said. "I'm scared."

Tappin's license could be suspended for five years if he is convicted. But in the months after the crash, Sanchez and her family said they have often seen him driving.

He lives less than a mile away.

Times researcher Lea Iadarola contributed to this report. Thomas Lake can be reached at tlake@sptimes.com or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6245.