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Crowd gathers to share grief, thoughts of safety


© St. Petersburg Times, published October 19, 2000

CARROLLWOOD -- After Jacob Kruse died over the weekend, becoming the second victim of a car crash, dozens of friends converged on Julia and Johnny Baker's house.

The Gaither High School students quickly embarked on a healing project, the Bakers said. The classmates of Kruse and Richard "J.P." Maharaj, both 16, worked the phones until they collected enough materials from local businesses to make a memorial sign.

Under a setting sun Wednesday, 75 to 100 mournful acquaintances, including the Bakers and their 16-year-old daughter, Dixi, waited their turn to inscribe a final message of remembrance on the board. "We lost 2. Speed Kills. In loving memory. J.P & JACOB" it reads in red letters.

Wearing yellow ribbons pinned to their clothes, people quietly embracedacross the street from where Maharaj flipped his sport utility vehicle Oct. 12 in the westbound lane of Bearss Avenue. He died the next day. Kruse died over the weekend.

Expecting a crowd, the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office assigned several deputies to control traffic along the eastbound side, where the sign is tied to a chain-link fence near an orange grove. They maintained the watch in the creeping darkness as people lingered, sharing silence and memories.

Eventually, everyone dispersed to attend a service for Kruse. Deputies set up a digital speed radar sign facing west that reminded drivers of the 40 mph limit.

All was not tears. Some energy was focused on the seriousness of wearing seat belts. Maharaj and Kruse, whom friends say dreamed of becoming lawyers, were not belted in and were flung from the vehicle.

They knew how to have fun, friends said. Brimming with self-confidence, they were magnets for guys and girls.

"J.P." would put Tabasco sauce on anything, they said, including popcorn and a toothbrush. His favorite cologne was Joop, because without the middle letters it spelled his name, Joel Khan said.

"We always had the best time on the weekends; movies, girls," he said. "You could always talk to them."

Dixi Baker said students are pushing for safety measures to slow traffic on the curvy stretch.

They are putting together a petition for a westbound flashing light to match the eastbound one, andshe said they conducted their first radar trap with deputies Wednesday. Speed bumps are another goal. Deputies will continue to monitor speed limits in the area, sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter said.

In the meantime, some are rethinking their casual attitudes aboutseat belts.

You "just don't think about it . . . not until something happens," Brian Rodriguez said.

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