Mara H. Gottfried, Pioneer Press, St. Paul –
A speeding SUV lost control on St. Paul’s East Side, traveled about 50 feet down an embankment and fatally struck a 16-year-old girl near Harding High School on Thursday, July 5.
The incident happened at the end of the school day, outside the school, while the summer school student was sitting under a tree with a 17-year-old boy.
“Tragic just doesn’t seem to sum it up for anybody,” said Howie Padilla, St. Paul police spokesman. “They were down the incline a little ways and sitting, I’m sure they believed, out of harm’s way.”
Police later identified the girl as Harding junior Clarisse Grime and the boy as classmate Eduardo Vazquez-Torres.
Meanwhile, officers took the driver into custody at the scene. He was being held on
suspicion of criminal vehicle operation.
Ashley Moore, who lives nearby, heard the crash and went to see what happened. Her niece called 911. Moore saw the girl’s mangled body, she said.
“She was trying to struggle to breathe and couldn’t breathe,” Moore said. De’Janea Johnson, Moore’s niece, said she saw the girl take her last breath. “It was so sad,” Johnson said. “She was just a baby.”
Students described Grime and Vazquez-Torres as a couple, and Moore said she usually saw them sitting together each day after school under the tree where they were hit. Grime lived in St. Paul, and so does Vazquez-Torres, according to St. Paul Public Schools.
Johnson said the boy was hysterical after the accident and trying to talk to the girl,
telling her, “Just follow my voice and breathe,” she said.
Students also were distraught as they left school Thursday.
“How can you be in the grass and a car just comes off the street and runs you over?” asked Messiah Arnold, 15.
Counselors will be at the school Friday to work with students and staff, the school district said.
The accident happened about 1 p.m. at Third and Hazelwood streets.
Carlos Viveros-Colorado, 50, of St. Paul was driving a sport utility vehicle east on Third
Street at “excessive speeds,” Padilla said.
Viveros-Colorado tried to turn left on Hazelwood, to head north, “misjudged the corner” and knocked over a fire hydrant, Padilla said. Viveros-Colorado lost control of the SUV; it careened across Hazelwood, mowed over a “No Parking” sign and went down an embankment by the Harding High School sign.
The SUV’s front driver’s side was damaged, Padilla said.
Vazquez-Torres, who also attended summer school at the high school, apparently escaped serious injury, Padilla said. He was conscious and walking, and police took him to Regions Hospital to be checked out.
“It breaks my heart to hear of this tragic accident,” said Board of Education Chair Jean O’Connell in a statement. “My thoughts and
prayers go out to the families of the students involved.”
Police questioned the SUV’s driver. “We’re not going to jump to any conclusions,” Padilla said.
Police also tested Viveros-Colorado to try to determine whether alcohol was a factor in the crash, but Padilla said Thursday night that he didn’t have the test results.
A search of Minnesota court records shows Viveros-Colorado was convicted in 2001 of driving while intoxicated.
Moore and other neighbors said that people drive too fast down Third Street and that the T-intersection ought to be a three-way stop. (There’s a stop sign on Hazelwood, where the street ends at Third.)
A preliminary search of police records showed two traffic accidents at the intersection in the past two years: one in September 2010 and the other two months later, Padilla said.