A malfunctioning flashing red light may partially be to blame in the tragic crash that killed a mother, father and their 5-year-old son overnight in Polk City.
Investigators say Justin Sims failed to stop at a stop sign on Deen Still Road at the intersection of State Road 33. A tractor-trailer came crashing over the front part of the Sims family car, carrying it more than 500 feet, according to deputies.
Justin, his wife, Shardona, and their son, Savion, were all in the front seat and died at the scene.
Areil, 7, and Kitty, 2, suffered serious injuries and were flown to a hospital in Orlando. They underwent surgery Tuesday and are expected to make full recoveries, deputies said.
Their 3-month-old sister, Arienne, was strapped in a car seat and is the only one uninjured.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said nobody else in the car wore seat belts.
The Dade City neighborhood where the Sims family is known and loved is now in a state of mourning.
"They were sweet people. You couldn't have asked for no friends better than them," said Crystal Stewart, who recognized the Sims family car from a news report Tuesday morning.
Many of their friends in the neighborhood don't want to believe the tragic loss and the difficult thought that three girls will never see their parents again.
Lisa Drevermann, another close friend of the family, said most of Shardona's family lives in New Jersey. Justin's father is a local pastor in Dade City and is said to be with the surviving girls in Orlando.
The busy intersection where the accident happened is known to be dangerous.
Since 2008 there have been an average of five accidents resulting in six injuries every year, according to statistics released by the county.
Sheriff Judd said a maintenance crew repaired the flashing red light before they reopened the road Tuesday morning.
Even though the light malfunctioned, Judd said the driver, Justin, should have still been able to see the stop sign.
"It's not normal practice to have a flashing light on every stop sign, so human nature is you should stop at the stop sign with or without the flashing light," he said.
Judd called the accident a "tragedy of monumental proportions."
He also noted that Justin should not have been behind the wheel in the first place because he was driving on a suspended license.