TAMPA — Jessica Raubenolt seized on the sunshine and blue sky at midday Wednesday to take her daughter out in the stroller for a walk along scenic Bayshore Boulevard. Visiting from Ohio, the family had been cursed by rain all week.
At the same time, Cameron Herrin and John Alexander Barrineau hit the gas, witnesses said, as they raced each other north on Bayshore, a main drag for the two teens who lived less than a mile away. Both had graduated just two days earlier from Tampa Catholic High School.
Raubenolt, 24, was pushing 21-month-old Lillia across the northbound lanes from the sidewalk on the bay toward the neighborhood where her uncle lives when they were struck by a black 2018 Mustang with Herrin at the wheel police said.
One witness heard the distinctive roar of the Mustang’s engine just before the crash. Another saw Raubenolt thrown into the air. The mother was soon pronounced dead at Tampa General Hospital. Her daughter Lillia died on Thursday.
Raubenolt was crossing legally at the intersection, police said.
On Thursday, her uncle, John Reisinger, offered words of forgiveness to those blamed for the death of his niece and her daughter. He spoke to the Tampa Bay Times before police announced that Lillia had died.
"We’re praying for those young boys and their families," said Reisinger, 62, who lives a quarter-mile from the scene of the crash. "We hope something good will come of this foolish accident. That’s what Jessie would want."
At the same time, Reisinger is mourning his family’s loss. Raubenolt was a devoted mother, wife and niece who married two years ago after meeting her husband-to-be, David, while studying nutrition at Kent State University. A health and fitness advocate, Raubenolt was visiting Florida with her family so David could obtain his certification in Pompano Beach as a single-engine airplane pilot.
The bad weather Raubenolt was waiting out also delayed her husband’s certification. The family planned to return home in a week.
"She made a mark on this world," Reisinger said, "that her death will not diminish. The biggest tragedy is that more people didn’t know her."
The two teen drivers and Herrin’s older brother, a passenger in his car, were taken into custody at the scene. Cameron Herrin, 18, and Barrineau, 17, each face two counts of vehicular homicide and street racing. They were freed from the county jail on Thursday after each posted $10,000 bail. Tristin Herrin, 20, who faces a misdemeanor charge of racing, was freed that same day after posting $500 bail.
The Herrins’ address was listed as the home of their parents, Chris and Cheryl Herrin, on Gardner Court just south of the accident scene. The Herrins paid $1.4 million for the house in 2005. Cheryl Herrin was a vice president for State Farm Florida and is a former member of the Citizens Property Insurance board of governors. Chris Herrin works as a videographer/editor, says his account with the online LinkedIn business network.
Barrineau’s address is just down the street from where Raubenolt’s uncle lives. Barrineau also works nearby, as a part-time bus boy at the Tampa Yacht & Country Club.
None of the three have a criminal record in Florida, according to a search of Florida Department of Law Enforcement records. They could not be reached for comment.
The Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg confirmed Thursday that the three are recent graduates of Tampa Catholic High School — Cameron Herrin and Barrineau on Monday, and Tristan Herrin in 2016.
In a statement, the diocese said it is praying for the victims.
"Our prayers and hearts go out to the young mother who died ... and all affected by this tragic loss of life," said Teresa Peterson, executive director of communications for the diocese, before the child’s death was announced.
Witnesses who were walking and driving along Bayshore told police they saw a black Mustang and a gold Nissan racing, arrest reports say. Police said Barrineau was driving the Nissan. One pedestrian described hearing the sound of an engine revving, then turning and seeing the two cars speeding north with the Mustang in front. The vehicles changed lanes to avoid slower traffic, the witness said. Soon after, the witness heard a crash.
After a while, David Raubenolt began to wonder where his wife and daughter were, so he headed out to Bayshore to look for them, Tampa police spokesman Steve Hegarty said. He came upon the scene and the damaged stroller after they had been taken to the hospital.
Those who knew Jessica Raubenolt spoke of her passion for heath, exercise and gardening.
In high school, she developed a garden as her Girl Scout Gold Award project, said Reisinger, her uncle. The garden is still thriving.
"Anybody who knew Jessica knew she was full of life," said Greta Siler, 55, manager at Food 4 Thought at Kent State, where Raubenolt worked for about three years. "If you knew her, you were a better person after that moment."
Raubenolt worked to connect people with healthy food and the power of growing and harvesting it, Siler said. They last saw each other just over two years ago, around the time Raubenolt graduated from college.
"David and Jessica were a sweet, loving couple, full of life and promise," Siler said. "She told me how excited she was, she was engaged. She had her whole life ahead of her."
The Raubenolts lived on a farm in Jeromesville, surrounded by a patchwork of plowed fields and pastures. David Raubenolt’s grandmother Lillian Raubenolt, for whom their new daughter was named, lives nearby. She said Thursday she can see the house lights the couple left on before they left for Tampa.
"Every time I saw the lights on, I knew they were there," Lillian Raubenolt said. "But they’re not. It all seems like a fairy tale that ended so quickly."
Times senior researcher John Martin and staff writers Sue Carlton, Anastasia Dawson, Paul Guzzo and Will Kennedy contributed to this report. Contact Tim Fanning at [email protected] Follow at @timothyjfanning.