CLEARWATER — Family members of three women killed in a fiery hit-and-run car crash gathered for a press conference Tuesday that was punctuated with audible sobs and emotional pleas for justice and support.
Cousins Briana Lequinda Campbell, 23, Jame’sia Chera Santoria Lang, 21 and their aunt, Grace Lashawn Collier died as a result of an early morning car crash Thursday.
Still clearly in mourning, the large extended family packed into a conference room at the Pinellas County Courthouse before a row of TV cameras. Their public address came on the heels of a brief court appearance by Marquice Lamonz Anderson, 27, the man accused of killing the three women and fleeing the scene. Anderson turned himself in on Monday, four days after the crash.
“I was blessed that he did turn himself in,” said Cheryl Newson, Collier’s mother and the grandmother of Campbell and Lang. “He took something precious to my heart that I have to live with. But I’m not angry. I’m satisfied.”
The family thanked law enforcement for its help identifying Anderson and asked the community for continued support as they grapple with funeral expenses and the costs of raising the six children the three young mothers left behind.
“This is a simple, down to earth, loving family of people who are not wealthy in material resources but wealthy in family love, wealthy in the determination to make sure that the children of these mothers and their grandchildren are given every opportunity that these working mothers would have wanted them to have,” said State Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg.
Rouson, also a lawyer, is representing the family.
“Briana, Jame’sia and Grace were all working and employed mothers doing the best they could to provide for their children,” he said.
A foundation, called Three Angels with Six Blessings, was set up to help the family cover funeral and childcare costs. Donations are being collected through Rouson’s law office.
“We appeal to the public and we thank the public for all the support and the generosity that they have shown,” said Cora Omari, Collier’s aunt and Lang and Campbell’s great aunt.
Minutes earlier, Anderson appeared before a judge via closed circuit television for a brief hearing. The victim’s family packed the rows of public benches in the small courtroom.
Anderson is accused with one count each of vehicular homicide, leaving the scene of a crash involving death, driving with a suspended license and violation of probation. Judge Nancy Moate Ley on Tuesday set his bond at $170,000.
Lawyer Dyril Flanagan has represented Anderson since his decision to surrender. While Flanagan was present to speak for his client Tuesday, it was unclear whether his family can afford hire an attorney for the duration of the trial. The judge ordered Anderson to return next week once it is determined who will represent him, be it Flanagan, a public defender or someone else.
“Until you hire a lawyer you won’t have anyone to speak (for you),” Moate Ley said.
Anderson asked if members of his family were there, to which one of the victims’ family members responded in the negative.
Investigators say Anderson was speeding on the wrong side of the road near the intersection of Ninth Avenue and 16th Street South in a rented car during the early hours of June 26 when he crashed into a Saturn carrying three women. The gas tank ruptured and the car burst into flames immediately. Anderson and his passengers are said to have left the scene on foot.
Campbell and Lang were trapped in the car and died at the scene. Collier died later on at Tampa General Hospital.
A judge issued a warrant for Anderson’s arrest in the hours following the crash. On Sunday, Anderson’s girlfriend, Brittany Donar, 25, was arrested on charges of misleading authorities on his whereabouts. The rental car was registered in her name, and authorities say her father rented the car for her. She was released on $5,000 bond later that day.
Anderson surrendered Monday. His lawyer said he took four days to do so out of concern for his safety, given the extensive media coverage of the case.
“The family is very concerned and would like to be notified if there are any future bond hearings or if there’s any potential that he might get out,” Rouson said at the press conference.
Memorial and funeral arrangements for the three women killed have been made.
A candlelight vigil is at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Zion Hill Mortuary, 1700 49th St. S. The visitation and wake are 4-9 p.m. Thursday at Old Landmark Cathedral, 4201 Sixth St. S. Funeral services are 1 p.m. Sunday at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, 3300 31st St. S.