MANATEE — A Cape Coral girl died Wednesday after being thrown from a sport utility vehicle on an Interstate 75 overpass and plummeting over a guard rail onto U.S. 301 below, according to a Florida Highway Patrol report.
FHP Lt. Chris Miller said Amarilis Cardona, 12, died after being airlifted to Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg in critical condition.
Amarilis was riding in the third row of a 2003 Ford Expedition headed north on I-75 at about 8 a.m., when a tire on the vehicle separated. The SUV spun around and slammed into a concrete guardrail at the U.S. 301 overpass.
Amarilis, who was lying in the seat and not wearing a seat belt, careened through the back window.
Both Amarilis and the window sailed over the edge of the guardrail and fell dozens of feet onto U.S. 301 below.
The girl landed in the northbound lanes of U.S. 301, and the driver of a truck stopped and blocked traffic headed north, preventing the girl from being hit by vehicles, Miller said.
Two other passengers in the SUV, a 28-year-old woman and 22-year-old woman, also were flown to Bayfront with minor injuries.
The driver and a 7-year-old boy in the SUV were unhurt.
Amarilis was the only person in the SUV not wearing a seatbelt.
“It is a tragic, tragic accident,” said Miller.
Miller said motorists in both front and back seats of vehicles should be wearing seat belts, and passengers should avoid unbuckling to lie down to sleep.
“Even on long trips, everyone should be buckled in because you never know when an accident is going to happen,” Miller said.
The crash was still under investigation, and no charges have been filed. In Florida, the driver of a vehicle can be held responsible for minors not wearing seat belts, Miller said.
After the crash, troopers closed the northbound lanes of I-75 and U.S. 301 for a short time, snarling traffic for miles, and also closed the southbound off-ramp at U.S 301.
The crash occurred at the same place a tanker overturned over the guardrail in 2008 and exploded after smashing onto U.S. 301.