Families, friends, survivor mark anniversary of fatal crash
Published: January 23, 2013
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ST. THOMAS - Family and friends gathered on the side of Weymouth Rhymer Highway on Tuesday with flowers and stuffed animals.
They were there to honor the one-year anniversary of a horrific accident that killed two teenagers and severely injured a third.
On Jan. 22, 2012, three young women were walking along the sidewalk in the early morning hours when a car hit and killed Aliya Robles, 17, and Jolicia Wilson, 18.
Shatina Garnette, now 19, was critically injured and has spent the last year undergoing many surgeries and intensive physical therapy.
Police arrested the driver, Karen J. Williams, at the scene and charged her with two counts of negligent homicide, driving under the influence, and reckless driving.
One year later, the case has stalled in V.I. Superior Court, and the frustrated families are seeking justice and closure.
"Our families, all three, have really been very patient waiting for something to be done and it hasn't," Aliya Robles' mother Sandra Robles said.
According to the court file, the case was assigned to Superior Court Judge Brenda Hollar, who retired in November. The case has not yet been reassigned to a different judge.
Alberto Robles Sr., the father of the victim, said Williams is out of jail pending trial.
"I just want justice done," he said.
Just before 5 a.m. on Jan. 22, 2012, Aliya Robles, Wilson and Garnette were walking west along the sidewalk near the entrance to the Donoe Bypass.
A Honda Accord, driven by Williams, was traveling east when Williams lost control of the vehicle, striking the three pedestrians and a utility pole, according to police.
The impact threw Aliya Robles 26 feet, and she was pronounced dead at the scene.
Wilson was thrown almost 17 feet and was taken to Schneider Hospital where she later died.
Garnette was thrown more than 28 feet. She was taken to Schneider Hospital and airlifted to Tampa General Hospital the next day.
Joseph Wilson III, the man who raised Jolicia Wilson and considers himself her father, said it has been a rough year, and he still misses her every day.
When he first got the phone call that she had been in an accident, he said he did not believe it. Reality sunk in when a police officer friend called and told him to come to the emergency room.
"I didn't make it there in time," he said.
Garnette suffered two broken arms, spinal fractures, nerve damage, a fractured pelvis and left leg and a dislocated right leg.
She was kept in a chemically induced coma for more than a week while doctors operated on her. She had 11 procedures done in the course of six major surgeries.
"The first people she asked for when she regained consciousness was Aliya and Jolicia," her mother, Shanda Caracciolo, said.
Then she asked for her son.
Her son was two months old at the time of the accident, and Garnette has been apart from him for most of the last year while she has been living at a rehab facility in Florida. Of all the things the accident has robbed her of, that is one of the worst, she said.
"I lost the privilege to be with my son," she said.
Her mother wanted to spare her the truth about the death of her two best friends, but eventually Garnette learned what happened. She saw a local news broadcast about the accident.
"All I could think was how come I didn't see that car if it was coming toward me," she said.
It took Garnette three months to be able to take her first steps, a feat that impressed her doctors.
"J'ouvert morning last year was the first time walking in three months," she said. "At the beginning, I could only take two steps and then have to sit down."
Now she walks without assistance, but standing for too long causes pain, and she must rest frequently.
Her father is a Taekwondo instructor at the Grandmaster Shin Taekwondo School on St. Thomas, and Garnette earned her black belt at 17.
Caracciolo said the surgeon in Florida told them her many years practising Taekwondo and leading an active lifestyle helped the healing process.
Garnette said her martial arts experience also helped her deal with her pain.
She said she learned from her sensei that "Pain is just a phase, it's not going to stay forever. You keep working on it, and eventually it goes away."
Garnette said her recovery has been not just physical, but emotional.
"This whole situation, people would feel it's a physical thing, but to get through this whole experience, you have to be mentally strong," she said.
When she is alone in Florida and feels discouraged, she turns to God for help, she said.
"I pray a lot, that's what mostly kept me going," she said.
Garnette and her mother thanked the community for their prayers during the aftermath of the accident.
"Those prayers were felt," Caracciolo said.
"I would just like to tell them all, thank you," Garnette said.
- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email email@example.com.