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    Couple mourn daughter killed in alpine ski tragedy

    "She was a preacher's kid. . . . She was always a joy,'' says Dick Baker of Seminole, the father of Carrie Lynn Baker, 23, a second lieutenant in the Army.

    By MAUREEN BYRNE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published November 14, 2000


    SEMINOLE -- Carrie Lynn Baker had never skied before, but she was anxious to learn as she set out on an Austrian skiing trip.

    A second lieutenant in the Army and stationed in Germany, Ms. Baker called her parents in Seminole on Friday on her way to Kaprun, Austria, telling them how happy she was.

    "She told her mother that this is the happiest time of her life," her father, Dick Baker, said Monday.

    She had a good job, a boyfriend and a strong faith in God. And, she told her parents, she was excited about learning how to ski.

    She never got the chance.

    Ms. Baker, 23, was one of 159 people who died Saturday when a cable car caught fire in a mountain tunnel on the opening day of the region's ski season. The victims included eight Americans -- including her boyfriend, 1st Lt. Erich R. Kern, 25, of Buffalo, N.Y. -- all members of a military-affiliated ski club on a four-day Veterans Day holiday.

    The Associated Press reported that the intensity of the fire left some of the bodies so badly charred that rescue workers were trying to identify the victims through DNA samples that matched with the bodies. It could take up to four weeks to identify individual bodies, the AP said.

    Ms. Baker never shied away from challenges, her father said. Learning how to ski for the first time in the Austrian Alps was just one of many.

    A drum major her senior year at Seminole High School, a distinguished military graduate at Auburn University in Alabama and a U.S. Army paratrooper, she was the type of child every parent wanted, Baker said.

    "Everybody loved her," he said. "She was just one of those kids that always tried to please you."

    Getting a scholarship to college so her parents wouldn't have to pay is one example, Baker said.

    As a high school senior in 1994 and 1995, Carrie juggled band practices and exhibitions with ROTC responsibilities. Her dedication paid off with a four-year college scholarship, two years at the University of Central Florida in Orlando and two years at Auburn University.

    The scholarship came with a commitment of serving four years in the U.S. Army. After graduating from Auburn in 1999, Ms. Baker was assigned to a three-year tour with the 30th Medical Brigade's 523rd Dental Services Company in Giebelstadt, near Wuerzburg, Germany.

    Baker said his daughter was leaning toward a medical career. "(The Army) was going to send her to medical school," he said. "They wanted her to be a doctor."

    Ms. Baker was scheduled to visit Seminole in January to celebrate Christmas. Her last trip home was in August, when she surprised her father for his 50th birthday.

    Baker and his wife, Carol, heard about the cable car accident on a television newscast late Saturday. But the details were sketchy, and it wasn't until they read the paper the next morning that they realized it was the same resort where their daughter was.

    They quickly called the Red Cross, but there was no word on the victims. Yet it wasn't long before the Bakers began to think their daughter had failed to survive the horrific ordeal.

    "We knew she would have called us and said, "I'm okay,' and she did not do that," Baker said.

    On Sunday morning, after the couple returned home from a dedication ceremony for the 7-month-old son of their other daughter, an Army colonel knocked on their door. He told them Ms. Baker likely had perished in the accident.

    Mrs. Baker, head librarian at Northside Christian School in St. Petersburg, said her faith will get her through the loss of her daughter. "I know she is with the Lord," she said. "There is no question."

    The family of four had moved from Tallahassee to Seminole in 1991 when Baker was hired as administrator of Community Christian School in Largo. A Baptist pastor, Baker also works as a minister of music at Azalea Baptist Church in St. Petersburg.

    "She was a preacher's kid," Baker said, adding that his daughter never rebelled as some teenagers do.

    "She was always a joy," he said. "She always brought joy to our home and everywhere she went. God entrusted us to raise her. She was never ours. So we'll just have to trust God."

    Baker said he has no plans yet for a service, but that his daughter probably will be buried in Seminole. He said he is waiting for guidance from the military.

    "I don't know what to do," he said.

    Neighbor Pat O'Sullivan was heartbroken when she heard the news. She remembers looking across the street to the Baker home during special times for Ms. Baker: when she left for her prom, and for her high school graduation ceremony, and once when she appeared as a young officer in her Army uniform.

    "The Bakers are the nicest people you could ever meet," she said. "They have a lot of faith. It is so unfortunate that this has happened. She was a perfect kid."

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