HAINES CITY, Fla. — A Polk County family is grieving after losing their 11-year-old Wednesday afternoon.
Yazmin White was killed while walking on the train tracks in Haines City. Investigators say she was wearing noise-cancelling headphones and was enthralled in her phone.
“Yazmin was a sweet girl I saw her around the neighborhood she hung out with my son quite often,” Latisha Harrell said.
Teachers, friends and family say the young girl will be remembered as bright, fun and ambitious.
“Very talented young lady, it’s just a tragedy that this horrific situation happened,” Harrell said.
Yazmin was new to middle school, and a new piano major studying at Davenport School of the Arts.
Thursday morning the Polk County School Board Superintendent and the middle school’s principal came together to talk about Yazmin’s ambition.
“Her teachers were talking about how dedicated she was to music and also as far as just having natural talent,” Brian Kier, the principal, said.
The Superintendent of Schools, Jacqueline Byrd, said the school will have grief counselors for faculty and students. The school will also be extending the counseling services to Yazmin’s family as they grieve their daughter’s death.
A day before students were due back to the classroom, investigators say Yazmin told her brother she was going to walk to a nearby store for food.
On her way back home, the Amtrak train realized the young girl was too close to the tracks, so the conductor decided to honk the horn. For a quarter mile the train was blowing it’s whistle but Yazmin never heard it.
Detectives say the 11-year-old had noise-cancelling headphones in her ears and was looking at her phone, according to an Amtrak employee.
“Yazmin walked up and over the tracks with her earbuds in, and never ever heard the train until the absolute last seconds when she looked up,” Sheriff Grady Judd said.
The Polk County Sheriff’s Office says Yazmin looked up and tried to run but it was too late, the train hit the 11-year-old girl.
Sheriff Judd says the train was going the speed limit, at about 68 miles per hour and was not able to stop in time. The driver said he could do everything he could to no hit the young girl.
“We know that they make noise-cancelling earbuds and if you have noise-cancelling earbuds, plus you have your music in your ears, the end results is apparently what at this point in the investigation, we saw.” Judd said.
The Polk County Superintendent says they do teach students to be cautious in every situation, but that they will revisit more specific safety instructions when it comes to train tracks and being distracted by your phone while in public.
“One thing we will always caution everyone is that sometimes you have to put that device down when you are traveling, when you were walking just a normal walk and make sure you are paying attention to your surroundings and where you are going,” Jacqueline Byrd said.
For Harrell, she says she’s found herself doing the same thing Yazmin did - crossing the tracks without paying attention.
“I’ve been guilty of doing it just crossing over to get to the store, there are children that come from other neighborhoods that does it as well,” Harrell said.
Her son is hurt over his friend’s death. Harrell says it might hit him harder after he returns from out of town.
Harrell says she is using the heartbreak as a lesson for her family, so that this does not happen again.
“I have shared with my kids that we are not crossing that track, be more alert when you’re walking throughout,” Harrell said.
Harrell has set up a Go Fund Me account for Yazmin White’s funeral expenses. If you’d like to donate — click here.