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Image lingers of 9-year-old killed by float
A Plant City Christmas event snaps from joy to panic as the child is pulled under the wheels.
By S.I. ROSENBAUM, BARBARA BEHRENDT and WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE, Times Staff Writers
Published December 9, 2007
A memorial was set up in Plant City to mark the death Friday of Jordan Hays, who was passing out candy from the Greater Heights Family Worship Center float.
[Ross Mantle | Times]
Jordan Hays was in third grade at Inverness Primary School.
PLANT CITY - On Saturday, Tammy Bridges returned to the place where her young cousin fell.
The sidewalk was empty. Nothing marked the spot except a few candies still scattered on the ground and the flowers from strangers propped against a street pole.
In her mind, she kept seeing Jordan's little body lying broken and lifeless in the street. She couldn't shake the image.
"It all went in slow motion," she said.
Nine-year-old Jordan Hays was crushed and killed as he reached for candy on the Greater Heights Family Worship Center float during the Plant City Christmas parade Friday night.
Jordan, a float participant, had been handing out candy to the crowd.
Plant City police said Saturday they are investigating the incident but expect no criminal charges to be filed.
"This was the worst outcome of a great event," said Plant City police Lt. Jerry Stwan.
Stwan said the boy was reaching for candy when his feet got caught in the float's wheels. The candy, police said, was on the top of a flatbed trailer, right in front of the wheels, which Stwan said may have contributed to the accident.
"Obviously, the candy shouldn't have been in front of the wheel," Stwan said.
It was Jordan's first time in the parade.
The accident happened on Collins Street after the parade halted for a few minutes near the railroad tracks. Jordan's family said people surged forward, trying to grab candy. Jordan, his older brother, Joshua Miller, and Tammy Bridges, 33, were crowded up against the sides of the float.
Then the float started moving again. Jordan's ankle got tangled in the float's axle and wheels. He was pulled under, and the wheels rolled across him, from his legs to his chest.
A police officer and Bridges screamed at the driver, Jordan's cousin Ricky "Bubba" Tarlton. Tarlton, who could not be reached to comment, had hit the brakes.
People shouted at Tarlton to back up. He did, family said, and the wheels rolled off the boy.
A police officer said in a report he saw the truck back up and run over Jordan a second time, which the family disputes.
Jerry Bridges, 37, Jordan's other cousin and Tammy's husband, jumped down from the passenger seat. He performed CPR as Johnny Knotts, who owns a nearby hardware store, held the boy's legs.
Knotts said he and Bridges repeatedly urged the unconscious boy to stay alive, telling him, "Come on, fella! Make it! Make it! We're with you! You're not by yourself!"
Bridges kept performing CPR until rescue workers pulled him away and took over. In the crowd around them, people formed prayer circles.
"I tried to save him," Jerry kept saying to Tammy. "I tried to save him."
It was the second accident involving a Christmas float in less than a week. On Dec. 1, a 7-year-old boy was seriously injured during the St. Augustine Christmas parade when his dangling feet got caught in the tires of the float, pulling him down.
Family members described Jordan as a happy boy who loved to play in the swamp behind his house and get covered in mud. He had two dogs, a Jack Russell terrier named Jack and Junior, a boxer.
A resident of Lake Panasoffkee in Sumter County, just over the Citrus County line, Jordan was a third-grader at Inverness Primary School. "He's touched so many lives," said IPS principal Marlise Bushman.
Jordan's brother, Joshua Miller, who is in the Air Force, recently visited the school, sharing with Jordan's classmates his experiences in the military and then eating lunch with his brother. "They just had a wonderful reunion," Bushman said.
Bushman plans to call the Citrus school district's crisis team into the school on Monday for both her staff and her students.
Friends and family gathered at the home of Jordan's parents, Jerry and Connie Hays, who declined to comment. A Christmas tree stood in the living room. Jerry Hays is a district manager for a company called Cemex.
One of Jordan's cousins, Charlena Simonds, also of Lake Panasoffkee, said Jordan wanted to be with his brother on Friday because he was ready to be shipped off to Italy.
"He loved people. He was an entertainer," she said, noting Jordan looked up to his father. "He wanted to be like his dad."
Funeral arrangements are pending.
Knotts, the stranger who tended to the boy as he lay dying, said his parents should know everything was done to save him.
"This is the Plant City Christmas parade," Knotts said. "We aren't supposed to have things go bad."