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Car full of teens crashes; girl dies

Teen with learner's license had five passengers, all 14 or 15.

By TAMARA EL-KHOURY and ELENA LESLEY, Times Staff Writers
Published September 17, 2007


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photo
[Special to the Times]
Raquel Carreras, 14, was killed in a car accident in St. Petersburg. Six teenagers were in the car when they collided with another car causing the driver to lose control, rolling the car over.

photo
[Dirk Shadd | Times]
Summer Lancaster, 13, covers her face while grieving as she kneels to read the memorial for her friend, 14-year-old Raquel Ann Carreras. In background from left is Kacy Yerger, 13, Lyndsey Kamide, 13, Kristen Guthrie, 14, Savannah Cash, 13, Danielle Ely, 14, and Ashlee Boariu, 13, all friends of Carreras. About 30 friends and family members were present to lay flowers and offer each other support Sunday evening.


ST. PETERSBURG - Raquel Carreras, a Northeast High School freshman, loved cheerleading, frozen Twinkies and Care Bears. She persuaded her mom to drive her to the school bus stop so her hair would stay perfect.

On Saturday night, she got into a car with five other teenagers - not one of them old enough to drive without the supervision of a licensed adult.

The car hit another car, and as it flipped over several times, Raquel Carreras was thrown out through a window. Her injuries killed her.

Throughout Sunday, people who knew her gathered at a roadside memorial to comfort one another and speak of their lost friend.

She was 14.

The accident occurred at 10:45 p.m. on 62nd Avenue N near Calais Boulevard, just east of Interstate 275, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

All six of the car's occupants were transported to a local hospital, according to the FHP. No medical information was released because they are all minors.

The FHP, however, confirmed that Raquel Carreras was pronounced dead at Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg.

The driver of the 2006 Saturn, Shawn Ledesma, turned 15 on July 31. He was issued a learner's license Aug. 3.

According to the patrol, Shawn was traveling east on 62nd Avenue N in the outside lane, nearest the curb. The passengers in his crowded car were Raquel Carreras, Kyle Carver, 15, Jasmine Bailey, 14, Jace Morrow, 15, and Brittany Ann Vinson, 14.

As the road turned to the right, Shawn didn't stay in his lane, according to the patrol. The left side of the Saturn hit the right side of a 2001 Nissan pick-up driven by Aaron Elliott, 17, in the inside lane.

Shawn lost control of the car and spun clockwise, hitting a curb and flipping over several times before crashing into a fence and an oak tree.

Elliott, the driver of the pick-up, and his passenger, Gabriella Gomez, 16, were uninjured, according to the patrol. The accident is still being investigated.

Shawn was not wearing a seat belt, according to the patrol report. It was not clear who else in the car may have been without the safety restraint.

A woman who answered the phone at Shawn's address in St. Petersburg declined to comment.

According to state driving laws, drivers with learner's licenses are not allowed to drive without a licensed driver 21 years or older in the car's passenger seat.

State laws also require those with a learner's license to drive only during daylight hours for their first three months. After that time, drivers can be on the road until 10 p.m.

All of the teens in the Saturn are students at Northeast High School, said Pinellas County Schools spokeswoman, Andrea Zahn. Grief counselors will be at the school today, she said.

Dozens of friends and relatives gathered Sunday afternoon at a makeshift memorial near the accident scene. A jumble of flowers and teddy bears sat propped against a tree, just feet from a white fence shattered by the collision.

Tearful friends scribbled notes on posters and a white cross. They wrote that they couldn't believe their bubbly, fun-loving friend was gone; that she was in a better place; that they'd miss dancing in the rain together.

"She was never mad, never sad, no drama," said Danielle Ely, 14, who befriended Raquel when they were second-graders. She was "just a beautiful girl."

She remembered one of her favorite photos with her friend, when they dressed up together for Halloween. Danielle was a cat and Raquel Carreras was a genie.

Set back a little from the throng of weeping teenagers, adults reflected somberly about a girl they all knew as "a good kid."

Susan Benway, the mother of one of Raquel's friends, said she was always impressed by how polite and cheerful the 14-year-old was with adults. Marcia Fortune, a friend of Raquel's mother, said Raquel sparkled, "just like her mom."

"She made a bad decision," Fortune said. "She got in a car with someone she shouldn't have."

The accident comes weeks after a much-publicized accident in Clearwater involving a teenage driver, 17-year-old Nick Bollea, the son of wrestler Hulk Hogan. The crash put Bollea's friend and passenger, John Graziano, in critical condition at Bayfront Medical Center.

Another teen, Pasco County's Kenneth A. Smith of Land O'Lakes, 16, was in critical condition Sunday after a crash Friday that killed his passenger, 17-year-old Gregory J. Darden, of Land O'Lakes.

- - -

Today is the 13th birthday of Raquel's sister, Ruthie Carreras. The family was planning to celebrate. Ruthie said her sister always helped her pick out outfits. Despite Raquel's little frame, her sister said, she'd stick up for herself no matter how big the other person was.

"She was very, very, beautiful," said her mother, Michelle Carreras. "She was particular about how she looked and it drove me crazy."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Tamara El-Khoury can be reached at tel-khoury@sptimes or 727 445-4181. Elena Lesley can be reached at elesley@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4167.

[Last modified September 17, 2007, 00:00:52]

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