DADE CITY — Lisa Drevermann peered out the window of her Dade Oaks apartment Tuesday morning and didn’t see her neighbor’s car.
Something was wrong.
Moments before Drevermann, 29, saw news reports of a fatal Polk County crash that claimed the lives of a husband, mother, and a 5-year-old. In that same wreck, three other kids were hospitalized. The car she would later look for outside her window was the one pinned under a semi truck.
“I saw in the report, the back end of their car and I knew it was theirs,” Drevermann said, “because it sits out here and not too many people have that car around here. So when I saw it, I showed my other neighbor and I said, ‘Tell me this ain’t their car.’ ”
Justin Sims, 31, was driving a 1998 Buick Century westbound on Deen Still Road when he went through the stop sign at State Road 33 and was struck by the semi-trailer, which was northbound on State Road 33, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.
Sims, along with wife Sharonda Sims, 28, and 5-year-old son Savion Sims, were killed. All three were in the front of the car and not wearing seatbelts, according to deputies.
Ariel Sims, 7, and Kitty Sims, 2, were airlifted to Arnold Palmer Children’s Hospital in Orlando, where they underwent surgery and are expected to make full recoveries, according to deputies.
They also were not wearing seatbelts, deputies said.
The youngest child, Arienne Sims, 3 months, was properly restrained in her car seat in the back seat of the car, deputies said. She was released from Lakeland Regional Medical Center and taken to Arnold Palmer by the state Department of Children and Families to be with her siblings and grandfather, deputies said.
The driver of the semi-trailer, Antonio Garcia, 31, of Tampa, was not hurt.
The wreck took place just after midnight at the intersection of State Road 33 and Deen Still Road in Polk City as the family was returning to Dade City after shopping at an outlet mall in Orlando.
After the collision, the car was pinned under the semi-trailer and dragged about 400 feet, deputies said.
Neighbors said Justin Sims’ father, Rev. Nathaniel Sims, pastor at nearby St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church, came to the apartment and gained entry with a property manager.
He took out the family’s year-old puppy, Midnight, and took her to a neighbor’s home across the parking lot.
Rev. Sims then drove to Orlando to be with his son and daughter-in-law’s remaining children.
A group of women gathered across the parking lot, facing the Sims home Tuesday morning.
The family moved in about a year ago from New York.
Justin Sims, a stay-at-home dad, was an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan. Justin Sims was on active duty from March 2004 to March 2006 for the U.S. Army, according to the Department of Defense.
Justin Sims loved music – even had a recording studio in his home, and cooked, according to neighbors. The weathered grill in front of the home was used almost daily, neighbor Tiffany Hammond, 33, said.
Deputies said Sims should not have been driving because his license had been suspended in September for failure to pay traffic fines.
Sharonda Sims, a certified nurse assistant at Heartland of Zephyrhills and originally from New Jersey, would always wave and shout hello to the women in the neighborhood when she arrived home or walked outside. In response, Hammond said, crying, she would wave back and call her by the nickname she gave Sharonda Sims, “First Lady.”
“They’re sweet people, they’re fun to be around,” neighbor Crystal Stewart, 27, said. “Their kids were awesome. Their kids played with our kids. We had barbecues and would sit out there and eat or go to each other’s house. My husband and her husband played (video) games together.”
Heartland of Zephyrhills released a statement on the crash, saying: “We extend our deepest sympathy in the death of our certified nursing assistant Sharonda Sims and her family members. We are deeply saddened by the loss and our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone. Sharonda was a wonderful member of the Heartland team and our staff and patients are grieving for her and her family. We have arranged for support from our employee assistance program to help the staff and patients through this trying time.”
Rev. Sims is the president of the Dade City chapter of the NAACP, a chapter he helped revive, and was installed as the minister of St. Paul in 2004. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
“I just know him as a real dedicated, religious man,” Lorenzo Coffie, a member of the Dade City NAACP chapter, said of the pastor. “He’s very active in the community. ”
The church was quiet Tuesday afternoon, while on the marquee was a quote from Galatians chapter 3, verse 26: “For ye are all children of God by faith in Jesus Christ.”
Dianne Morris, executive director of the Pasco County Housing Authority, said the Sims family was popular in the year they lived at the complex.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the family,” Morris said. “I did not know them personally. I knew that they were well liked in Dade Oaks and they will be sorely missed.”
Now, the tight-knit group inside the community is left with memories of good times and hopes for a stable future for the Sims’ girls.
“I’m hurt because of the kids,” Drevermann said. “One 5-year-old little boy lost his life, didn’t even have a chance in the world yet. And then, the 7-year-old little girl, she’s going to have to grow up and tell her younger sisters about their mom and dad because they’re little, you know. They don’t understand.”