The windshield was shattered on the red Chevrolet Monte Carlo. The bumper was shredded and the front hood crushed after the car overturned several times on Adamo Drive. The woman behind the wheel wasn't wearing a seat belt. She died after she was thrown from the vehicle and the car landed on top of her. In the back seat of the mangled vehicle, though, was a small miracle. The woman's baby, securely fastened in a rear-facing child seat, was alive. Her injuries were relatively minor, mostly related to being showered with broken glass during the violent accident.
The crash early Monday near U.S. 301 is a reminder not only of the importance of child seats, but the need for everybody in a car to wear seat belts, traffic safety advocates said. Jean Shoemaker, the coordinator of the Tampa area chapter of Safe Kids USA, said a properly installed safety seat not only save lives but minimizes injuries to a child's neck and spine. But parents should also make sure they're buckled in properly, too, she said. “This mom was an awesome mom, making sure her child was safe,” said Shoemaker, who coordinates child passenger safety classes at All Children's Hospital in St. Petersburg. “But because she wasn't wearing her seat belt, this child won't have her mom there at her wedding. It makes me want to cry.” Florida Highway Patrol officials are all too aware of the statistics related to seat belt use. “Today was a prime example of how the person who was restrained has survived,” Sgt. Steve Gaskins said. “You double your chances of survival if you use a seat belt.” The highway patrol identified the mother Tuesday as Olga Naomi Valentin, of Mulberry, and her daughter as Nevaeh Pierce. Investigators say Valentin drove in the center median for unknown reasons, then lost control of the car, which flipped several times. Valentin was ejected from the car and died. All Children's offers car seat safety checks and classes in Tampa, Brandon, St. Petersburg and nine other locations. “All vehicles and all seats have different parameters, so we make sure they're installed correctly,” said hospital spokesman H. Roy Adams. The class is also for families who can't afford to pay full price for the seats. Seats for children 4 years old or younger costs $20 and booster seats for older children are $10. Shoemaker said parents are given instruction on the placement of the seat and its chest and shoulder harnesses. Children should ride in the rear-facing position until they reach the upper height or weight limit of the seat, she said. In the event of a crash, the rear-facing position acts like a “cocoon,” preventing a sudden forward movement of the head and spinal cord during a sudden stop, Shoemaker said. Children should be in booster seats until they're big enough to properly fit in a seat belt, which is usually 8 to 12 years old, according to the Safe Kids USA website. Many parents, though, stop using a booster seat much earlier than that. As children age, they are “less likely to be in the appropriate child safety seat for their age and weight,” according to a 2011 Safe Kids USA study. That's why, the study says, “motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for children ages 3-14.” Under state law, children 3 or younger must be in a child-restraint seat, Gaskins said. The driver is responsible for buckling up the child. As states increasingly have legislated the use of booster seats, Florida and South Dakota are the only two states that don't have laws for mandatory booster seats, Shoemaker said, death and injury rates have dropped. Car crash fatalities in Florida involving children 4 years old or younger have decreased since 2007, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. There were 24 crashes that year involving that age group, and 19 survived because they were in car seats, according to the agency's data. In 2011, there were 13 crashes and 10 survivors. Data has not yet been compiled for 2012. Shoemaker said that while parents are better informed about getting the right seats for their children, they should not forget to take precautions for themselves. At one safety class, instructors noticed a boy correctly using the harnesses in his child seat, Shoemaker said. Instructors lauded the boy, but he told them that his father rarely buckles up. “He told them, 'Would you tell my daddy to please wear his seat belt?'” Shoemaker said. “Parents, thank you for doing everything right to keep your kids safe. But please do everything to keep yourself safe, too.”