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Boy’s death inspires a new organization

The parents of a boy killed crossing a street build a memorial, and a group forms to address unsafe driving.

By SUSAN THURSTON

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 22, 2001


TAMPA -- Debra Fenner hopes no one else ever has to do what she did on Monday: plant a tree at Buchanan Middle School in memory of her teenage son.

photo
[Times photo: Fraser Hale]
Justin Fenner's father, Craig Fenner, right, and stepfather, Vale Pili, plant a magnolia tree at Buchanan Middle School as part of a memorial for Justin.
Justin Fenner died Jan. 18 in a traffic accident while crossing Bearss Avenue near his home on Iris Avenue. It was dark and the motorist didn't see him as he stepped off the curb, authorities said.

Mrs. Fenner said her son probably would still be alive if the street had more lights and the speed limit was reduced on Bearss in front of the school. She wants changes made before someone else is injured or killed along the busy, 45 mph road.

"I hope there are no more trees planted in this courtyard," she said after an emotional ceremony at the school he attended.

Friends and relatives of the tall, dark-blond 13-year-old gathered at Buchanan to honor his memory and launch a nonprofit group dedicated to promoting traffic safety awareness and family unity.

"I know he would have been here if it was one of his friends," said Mrs. Fenner, who also put up a brightly decorated cross in the median of Bearss after his death. "He was a very emotional boy. He carried his feelings on his arm all of the time."


Justin was a die-hard sports fan who enjoyed helping others. He played football, basketball, soccer, track and thought about becoming a doctor.
The organization, called Justin Time, seeks to encourage people to have more patience on the road, avoid cell phones while driving and always wear seat belts. Mrs. Fenner also wants parents to spend a few extra minutes talking with their children about their day.

Organizers hope the group will make a difference in people's lives, just as Justin did.

"He was the most quiet, polite, giant little boy," said Oscar Perez, the family's doctor for the last five years, who is helping form the organization. "He was a mature child for his age."

Longtime friends remembered Justin as a die-hard sports fan who enjoyed helping others. He played football, basketball, soccer, track and thought about becoming a doctor.

"He was always there for everybody. He touched the lives of a lot of people," said 14-year-old Bryan Perkins of Bradenton, who grew up with Justin. "I always thought he was going to be there."

Classmates made a scrapbook for his family with photos and notes from friends, who called him a wonderful person and a great classmate. One student said Justin was a role model because he had a big heart and wasn't judgmental.

Justin's father, Craig Fenner, said going on after his death has been difficult. Relatives cried under the hot afternoon son as loved ones read statements about Justin and his wishes for tolerance, peace and love.

Mr. Fenner donated two benches overlooking the trees planted for Justin and another girl, Laylie Saleem, who died in March 2000. "I think it helps make it more of a memorial spot," Mr. Fenner said. "It gives them a quiet place where they can contemplate and reflect."

To learn more

For information about Justin Time, call Debra Fenner at (813) 969-1777.

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