Just hours after a devastating crash killed three members of a Dade City family, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd asked people to pray for other passengers in the car.
Investigators say six people were in a 1998 Buick Century that was traveling west on Deen Still Road in Polk City early Tuesday morning when the Buick ran through a stop sign and collided with a semi tractor trailer that was driving north on State Road 33 (Commonwealth Avenue).
The car hit the trailer and was dragged about 400 feet down the road, according to a PCSO report. Deputies said the car might have failed to stop at the stop sign at the intersection.
31-year-old Justin Sims, his wife 28-year-old Sharonda Sims, and their son 5-year-old Savion Sims, who was in the front seat, were all killed in the crash.
The couple's three other children were transported to hospitals. Ariel Sims, 7, and Kitty Sims, 2, were airlifted to a hospital in critical condition. Tuesday night, deputies said both girls had undergone surgery, and are expected to make full recoveries.
A baby who was also in the back seat, 3-month-old Arienne Sims, was taken to a hospital with non-life threatening injuries. The baby has since been released to Department of Children and Families.
None of the children, nor the parents, were wearing a seatbelt, the PCSO says. The baby was properly restrained in her carseat in the back seat of the car.
"When you see a crash like this, it changes your life forever. If everyone could witness, they would drive more carefully," said Judd at the news conference.
The driver of the semi, 31-year-old Antonio Garcia of Tampa, was wearing a seatbelt and was not hurt.
The investigation indicates that the family was shopping at an outlet mall in Orlando and was returning home to Dade City when the crash occurred.
“It was late at night, they had been shopping they were probably tired and for whatever reason he didn't see the stop sign,” Sheriff Judd said.
The news left the family's tight-knit neighborhood in Dade City stunned Tuesday morning.
“I hurt because both parents were taken from their babies and all little kids need parents in the world,” It's heartbreaking and I'm praying that the two little girls make it for the infant's sake,” neighbor Lisa Drevermann said.
The family, which was known for sharing their barbeque dinners with their neighbors around 7 o'clock each night, brought joy to their circle of friends. And that little boy, Savion, brought a sense of comfort to those he loved most.
“He was always protective of his sisters no matter what anybody did,” neighbor Ethel Gray said.
Deputies found that the driver of the Buick, Sims, had a suspended driver's license from September 2013, for failure to pay traffic fines.
Officials closed SR 33 at Green Pond for a few hours. The roadway was open at 6 a.m.
The investigation is ongoing. No charges are pending.