At the Bottom of the Bay.
Nov 15, 2007, 8:29 PM 0
It was the kind of silky, warm November day that only happens in Florida. Pearly skies and clear vistas. the dark blue waters of Tampa Bay and the cleanly etched skyline of the city stood out as Amira Jakupovic and her family drove north across the Howard Frankland Bridge. Now U.S. citizens, they had moved from Europe to St. Peterburg, Florida, six years earlier. Today they were on their way to lunch with relatives in Tampa. trim and fit, Amira could have passed for a teenager. Her husband, Mujo, an Grandmaster chess player, was in the front passenger's seat of their green Ford Explorer, and their two boys, Amar, 7 and Emrah,13, were in the back. The younger boy had fallen asleep. Traffic was light. as they approached the end of the bridge, there was a sound like a gunshot. The back left tire had blown out. the SUV travelling at about 55 mph, skated wildly across the reinforced concrete roadway. The car slammed into te left cement guardrail and careened across all four northbound lanes spinning and rolling over several times, crushing the roof. It finlly hit the highway barrier on the right, then, in a single vault, went over the rail and plummeted into te dark bay below. Kerry Reardon knew the waters around Tampa and St. Peterburg as well as the snook and spotted sea trout. He was an engineer and an avid fisherman. Once, while crabbing with his wife and kids, he'd even hauled in a blacktip shark ( "a little four-footer," he says, but big enough to take a kid's hand of). this Saturday, Reardon had planned to compete in a fishing tournament, but he his teammates hadn't caught enough bait and finally dropped out. that meant Reardon had the afternoon free to take his 15-year old daughter, Kara, out for a driving lesson. Out on the road, Reardon expected Kara to turn right, toward St. Petersburg's spectacular Sunshine Skyway Bridge. But ona whim, the young driver turned left instead, toward Tampa across the three mile-long Frankland Bridge. When they were almost over, the traffic began to slow, then creep along. "Dad, there's a backup," Kara said. "Get used to it," Reardon joked. locals callthe bridge the Frankenstein, due to its horrendous traffic snarls. Then reardon noticed a half-dozen or more people standing at the bridge's barrier, staring into the water. Glittering bits of glass covered the pavement, and there were skid marks across three lanes. This was not one of Frankenstein's usual jams, Reardon realized. Someone must have gone over the side. amira had blacked out. chill salt water revived her. Frantically, she looked all about. her long brown hair swirled in the water. in the murk, she saw a hint of blue and white letters on the shirt her older boy, Emrah, was wearing. She reached out and grabbed the cloth. with her other hand, she searched for the door, a window, any way out. all the glass had blown away in the SUV's tumble across the bridge. Amira pulled Emrah to her and swam out the driver's side window. the two struggled to the surface. But her husband and their younger child were still below. Taking a breath, Amira saw the blue prow of a fishing boat coming straight toward them. It slowed, and someone leaned over the side to take her son out of her arms. Amira dived immediately, searching for the wreck. She found the car, but she couldn't get in and was forced to come up for a breath of air. she dived again. This time, she couldn't locate the SUV in the swirling, siltladen water. Surfacing a second time, she saw that her husband had made it out. together they dived, hunting for their younger son but it was as if the bay had swallowed the SUV and the child with it. Finally an ambulance arrived. EMT"s laid Amar on a stretcher and hooked him up to their equipment. They covered the child's nose and mouth with an oxygen mask that could be hand pumped. As the EMT's wheeled Amar into the ambulance, Earle checked his vital signs and turned to the distraught parents. "Do you pray?" she asked. The mother nodded.