Two teenagers and three women arrived at the corner of Bloomingdale Avenue and Las Brisas Drive on Nov. 17 carrying balloons, a sign, a stuffed animal and a head covering that Andrea Bower had always thought was cool.
All in all, small signs of a great love and a tragic loss that family and friends are struggling to endure and a community at large is attempting to understand.
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“It’s a horrible tragedy,” said Lisa Kearney, whose family knew Bower and her family. “No one should have to go through this. And no child should have to feel this pain.”
Bower, 13, a student at Giunta Middle School in Riverview, was struck Nov. 16 by a Ford sports utility vehicle driven by a Riverview woman with two young children in tow.
The accident happened at Las Brisas Drive and Bloomingdale Avenue, where a growing roadside memorial has taken root, and where Bower had attempted to catch the bus to school, across the street from the Buckhorn Springs Drive bus stop where she had missed the same bus minutes earlier.
“She just wanted to keep her perfect attendance,” Kearney said, at the roadside memorial. “She didn’t want to mess up her perfect attendance. That’s all it was. She just wanted to go to school. She loved school.”
Kearney’s daughter, Kristen Kearney, 18, joined Patricia Pados, 25, and Desiree Miller, 15, also at the memorial.
As they placed their mementoes, drivers passing by would honk their horns, in tribute to a young girl they didn’t know but always will remember, and especially so with the roadside memorial that is taking root.
“I made the sign and I brought her that [head covering, of an animal with body-length ties] because she liked it, “ Miller said. “She was like, ‘That’s so cool, I want a hat like that.’ ”
Miller said she often “hung out” with Bower and that her cousin played with Bower’s brother. “She had the best heart, she’d do anything for you,” Miller said.
“She was sweet,” Kearney added. “She talked a lot but she was always there for you.”
“She had a great mind,” Pados added. “She always thought good, positive things.”
Lisa Kearney said Bower’s mother was a single mother at work at the time of the accident. Miller said her family drove Bower’s mother to Tampa General Hospital, where Bower died hours after the accident, at 5 p.m.
According to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, the accident occurred at around 8:30 a.m. as Bower attempted to cross the lanes of one of the area’s most busiest thoroughfares.
Bower ran into the path of a Ford SUV driven by Stephanie Lynn Akins, 30, who attempted to brake but could not avoid hitting Bower. The girl was struck and dragged 20 feet, according to deputy Larry McKinnon, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office.
Akins, who had two of her children in the car, reportedly cooperated with investigators and submitted to a voluntary blood draw. The sheriff’s office reported that neither speed nor alcohol appeared to be factors in the accident.
Senseless, is how the females surrounding the makeshift memorial described the incident and its aftermath.
They were joined later by Miller’s husband and son Kenneth, a young boy who printed his name on the sign, then nestled in the arms of his mother, Wanda Miller, crying. Kenneth Miller is a frequent playmate of Bower’s brother, Jacob.
“Either the boys are at my house or at their house,” said Miller, at the roadside memorial with her daughter, Desiree, and her friend Lisa Kearney, in whose arms Wanda Miller had earlier cried as well.
"Life is too short," Lisa Kearney said, looking down at two pictures of Bower, at the base of the roadside memorial. “That was an innocent child, going to school, doing what’s expected."