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St. Pete woman 'run off road' before fatal crash into pond

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Published:   |   Updated: March 10, 2014 at 09:52 PM

ST. PETERSBURG — Jennifer Lee Wolfe was the strongest, most capable woman her husband knew, so when he learned she died early Monday morning after her minivan struck a sign post and drove into a retention pond near the Carillon Office Park it “didn't seem real.”

“I definitely thought she would figure out how to get out of the car. I never thought this could be the end,” James Wolfe said. “She's a very smart woman and I've never seen her in a situation where she just froze, she's always able to take care of business.”

St. Petersburg police say Jennifer Wolfe, 35, the mother of two boys, called her husband as her 2004 Honda Odyssey minivan was sinking and told him she had been run off the road around 12:30 a.m.

Jennifer Wolfe was driving northbound on 28th Street North, between 118th Avenue and Roosevelt Boulevard, when she missed a curve and struck a metal sign post in the center median, police said. Her van continued across the southbound lanes and left the roadway, driving down a slight embankment and into the retention pond just north of 2850 Scherer Drive.

Police said they had no information on the possibility of a second vehicle, but the investigation was still under way. James Wolfe, who works at Raymond James Financial in Carillon, next to where they live, said if there were a second driver he and his family would understand that “everyone makes mistakes.”

Wolfe said his wife had left their apartment at 500 Trinity Lane North to get groceries at a nearby Wal-Mart, one of the only stores still open, while he slept on the couch. She called before she left the store to see if he needed anything and then called again 10 to 15 minutes later in a panic.

“I could barely understand what she was saying through all the tears and anxiety, but finally made out that she was in a pond and couldn't get out of the car because the door was stuck,” James Wolfe said. “I kept saying, 'get out of the car, get out of the car,' and I told her to call 911 so they could use GPS to find her. Then right before she hung up I heard her kind of scream and then it sounded like water rushing in. I don't know if she dropped the phone in the water or what, but that was the last time I talked to her.”

James Wolfe called 911 at 12:57 a.m. after receiving his wife's call. St. Petersburg police said Jennifer Wolfe made an initial call to 911 operators at 12:36 a.m. When an operator picked up Jennifer's call, the phones disconnected and attempts to return calls to her cell phone were unsuccessful. The 911 operators weren't able to determine a location for the call or to make voice contact with her, police said.

The recorded 911 calls are not being released because the investigation is ongoing, police said.

After speaking with police, James Wolfe drove toward the Wal-Mart searching for his wife. The couple and their two sons, 9 and 11, moved to the area from Memphis, Tenn., about a year ago, and were still getting used to area roads, he said.

As he drove, he came upon Pinellas Park police searching the pond. The searchers were unable to find anything until a sheriff's helicopter arrived about 1:30 a.m. and, looking from above, spotted the submerged van. Pinellas Park police and a sheriff's deputy pulled the unconscious woman from the vehicle and attempted CPR, but she was pronounced dead later at Humana Northside Hospital, police say.

Jennifer Wolfe was a stay-at-home mother and full-time nursing student at St. Petersburg College who enjoyed coaching her sons' football team with her husband and volunteering at her sons' school. She was always looking for ways to help others, and as an organ donor her “final act will be saving other people's lives,” James Wolfe said.

“Being a mom was all she cared about, she was perfectly happy just being a mom,” James Wolfe said. “Before she decided to do nursing she wanted to do teaching because she just loved helping kids. She was absolutely the love of my life.”

Dive crews discovered another vehicle in the pond, according to reports, but that incident is unrelated to Jennifer Wolfe's crash. St. Petersburg police are investigating the incident because her van hit a sign within the city limits.

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