TAMPA — Marterrance Albury lost his life late Sunday on a stretch of North Florida Avenue that slices through an urban tangle of car dealerships, strip centers and pawn shops. The 4-year-old boy either fell from a moving vehicle, was pushed out of a moving vehicle or wandered into the street near the corner of 109th Avenue.
The child may have been run over by the rear tire of the vehicle he was riding in. Or he may have been run over when he wandered in the street. The vehicle never stopped.
Details remained sketchy Monday as detectives tried to unravel what happened. Among the mysteries: How did the child get from his apartment, where he was being watched by his older brother. How did he get into the vehicle, which police say is not connected to the family? Why didn’t the driver stop, if the child tumbled out of the rear passenger-side door? Who was behind the wheel?
Late Monday night, police revealed that investigators had obtained video from a surveillance camera that forced them to question the original story reported to 911 on Sunday night — that the child fell out of the SUV. The boy may have wandered into the street and been the victim of a hit-and-run, police said.
Investigators are trying to get video with a higher resolution to help solve the mystery.
Police got a call at about 9:45 p.m. Sunday from a witness who reported seeing the child fall out of a green sport-utility vehicle. The child landed on his head and was then run over by the back wheel of the vehicle, police said.
Marterrance was critically injured and later was pronounced dead at St. Joseph’s Hospital. The cause of death was trauma to the upper body, according to the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner’s Office, which conducted an autopsy Monday.
“There still are a lot of unanswered questions,” said Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy.
About a half-hour after the boy was taken to the hospital, his 17-year-old brother, Sam, approached an officer at the scene and said he couldn’t find his 4-year-old brother. They live in an apartment building near the intersection. Police interviewed the teen at length, McElroy said, but it is unclear how or if the child ended up in the SUV.
“It doesn’t appear he (the teen) or the family was connected to the vehicle,” McElroy said. “It’s unclear. We’re still searching for the vehicle.”
Marterrance’s mother, Joantea L. Williams, 36, 109 Brittany Lane, came home at 4 a.m. Monday and told police she had been out with a friend and left her 4-year-old in the care of his older brother.
After hearing about her son’s death, Williams became hysterical and wanted to take her own life, police said. Once officers were able to calm her, she was taken to a hospital, where she was involuntarily committed under the Baker Act.
The family is reeling from the incident, said Doynisha Warfield, the child’s aunt. She wants the driver of the SUV to step forward and take responsibility.
“In a way it’s too late, but really, it’s never too late to come up and admit your wrongdoing,” she said. “Own up to the fact you hurt someone’s loved one. You put his family in a predicament and now we have to pick up the pieces and move on.”
She thinks her nephew slipped out of the apartment while his brother was playing video games and that the child may have been abducted. She believes the child was pushed out the door of the moving vehicle.
“He was a quiet child,” she said. “But when he was around family, he was outgoing. He liked candy a lot. Whenever he had a pocketful of candy, he’d share it with everybody.
“He was a real sensitive child,” she said, “not aggressive, never one to start trouble. Just a good type of child.”
Over the past four years, the Hillsborough sheriff’s child protective investigations division opened two cases involving the family, one concerning the 17-year-old two years ago. The case was closed, said Natalie Harrell, spokeswoman with the Department of Children & Families. Details were not released.
She said the family also came under scrutiny in March 2010, while Williams was pregnant. The case involved concerns of domestic violence; Marterrance was born while the department was investigating the case. The case eventually was closed, Harrell said, after the allegations were found to be unsubstantiated.
Harrell said the sheriff’s child protective investigations division is looking into Sunday night’s case as well, and her department will conduct a death review report. That report could take several weeks to complete, she said, “although it may be longer due to any ongoing criminal investigations.”
Neighbors were in shock Monday as they processed the news that the friendly preschooler was dead.
“He was always friendly,” said Jerry Rodriguez, a neighbor who lives directly above the apartment rented by Williams and her children. “When you came home from the store, he would come to the window and wave to you.”
Its a tragedy such a thing could happen to a 4-year-old, said Rodriguez, 19, who has lived in the apartment for five months. “He’d see you in the window and he’d always say, ‘Hi.’ He was pretty outgoing.”
By Monday night, no arrests had been made and homicide detectives continued to look for the SUV, described as a 2001-2004 Ford Expedition, possibly green colored.
Rodriguez said he has seen a green Ford Expedition, driven by a woman, who visits the Williams’ family, though he doesn’t know who the person is or if the vehicle is the same one police are looking for. The last time he saw the vehicle, he said, was about a week ago.
Five years ago, less than a mile away, a baby was thrown from a moving car onto Interstate 275.
The man charged with first-degree murder in that case currently is on trial in Tampa and faces the death penalty if he is convicted.
Richard McTear, 26, is accused of throwing 3-month-old Emanuel Murray out of the window of his car on the interstate near Fowler Avenue in May 2009. Jury selection in McTear’s murder trial began last week.
Tampa police said anyone with information who wishes to remain anonymous should call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-873-8477, go to www.crimestopperstb.com or text “CSTB” plus the tip to CRIMES (274637).