Jan. 8, 2002 – On New Year's Day, news networks and wire services reported the "good Samaritan" action of Sen. Bill Frist, the physician-politician who was chosen to succeed Trent Lott as Senate majority leader, at the scene of an accident in South Florida. The vacationing Frist was among several people who stopped to lend assistance until paramedics arrived.
What the networks didn't tell people, and what many Virgin Islanders did not learn until Wednesday, when Government House issued a statement of condolences, was that five of the six persons in the vehicle, including a child who died at the scene and two other youngsters who did not survive, were from St. Thomas.
Stella Kali, who for many years provided security services to government offices; her husband, Jocelyn Kali; and her three children were riding in a red Isuzu Rodeo owned by Meme Chery. Authorities said they were driving across Alligator Alley, a long, straight stretch of highway that cuts across South Florida, when the sport utility vehicle blew a tire and rolled over several times in the median, throwing at least three of its occupants out.
Felixienne Kali, 11, died at the scene of the accident.
Her brother, Felix Kali, 14, died a day and a half later, on the evening of Jan. 2, at Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood, Florida, just north of Miami. Authorities said he had been riding in the cargo area of the SUV.
Shadia Rene, 20, their sister, died early Saturday morning at Broward General Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Stella Kali, 39, and her husband, Jocelyn Kali, 40, remain hospitalized at Broward General, where she was reported in critical condition and he was listed in good condition last weekend. Chery, who is not related to the family, was released from that hospital last Friday.
On Wednesday afternoon, Stella Kali's brother Lennox Zamore said on St. Thomas that his sister "is still in a coma," while her husband is "conscious, talking, but not ambulatory. He suffered damage to his hip, right leg and right eye."
The Kalis live in Tampa, Zamore said. "They moved to Florida about a year and a half ago," he said, adding that he does not know Chery, also a Tampa resident.
Zamore said his sister had worked "for about six years" on St. Thomas with GAF Security, which provides contract services to government agencies. "She was a security officer at various departments — Finance, Labor, Human Services, they all know her there," he said.
She also had been a security officer at the Governor's Residence, according to the release from Government House. In the release, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull expressed shock and extended sympathy to her and her family.
"The impact of such a tragedy is unimaginable," he said. "The victims were so young … Their dreams and aspirations were yet to be realized."
Senator credited with saving victim's life
Frist is credited with saving the life of Stella Kali. "He did a tracheotomy on my sister," Zamore said. The procedure consists of cutting an opening into the trachea, or windpipe, to allow breathing when the air passage is blocked.
Citing the action and expressing his thanks to the senator, Turnbull said: "This humanitarian act is exemplary and deeply appreciated by all Virgin Islanders." He added: "We earnestly pray for a speedy and thorough recovery for Stella and her husband."
Zamore, a Turnbull appointee who is a program director in the Human Services Department, had been in Colorado and had stopped off in Miami to visit a friend at a hospital there on his way back to St. Thomas. He was at that hospital when he received word from his wife, Michelle, an employee at the Birch de Jongh Hindels and Hall law firm on St. Thomas, about the accident. "She saw it in the news," he said.
After spending several days in Fort Lauderdale, he returned home.
He said Shadia Rene was a 2001 graduate of Charlotte Amalie High School — "in the top 50 in her class." She had earlier attended Jane E. Tuitt Elementary and Addelita Cancryn Junior High Schools.
Felix had been a pupil at Lockhart Elementary and then Jane E. Tuitt, Zamore said, and Felixienne had attended Jane E. Tuitt.
Alligator Alley, which also is a part of Interstate 75, is a straight shot some 125 miles across the Florida Everglades between Fort Lauderdale on Florida's east coast and Naples on its west. It's at minimum two lanes in each direction, and those who keep to the 70 mph speed limit often find themselves being passed left and right. According to published reports, the Isuzu was eastbound shortly before 4 p.m. on New Year's Day, headed for Fort Lauderdale, about 36 miles away, when the accident occurred.
Tread of blown tire disintegrated
The Miami Herald quoted Lt. John Bagnardi of the Florida Highway Patrol as saying the crash occurred when a Firestone Wilderness AT tire on the SUV blew and its tread disintegrated. Pieces of the tire shattered a window in a van, the Herald reported. The driver of the van said the Isuzu "was passing us on the inside lane and as he drove next to us, we heard a boom and then something hit our passenger window."
Frist, who had been vacationing with his family in the Fort Lauderdale area, also was eastbound, driving with his two sons. An aide said he came upon the accident scene moments after the crash, pulled off the highway and rushed over to the victims. According to Bagnardi, Frist cradled the head and immobilized the spine of one victim until paramedics arrived, directed the medics to the most seriously injured and helped set up life-support systems for two of the injured.
CBS News reported that ambulances transported the victims to hospitals about 30 minutes after the crash.
Frist, a graduate of Harvard Medical School and a specialist in lung and heart surgery, is Tennessee's senior senator. With eight years of service in the Senate, he had just been elected at the end of 2002 by his fellow Republicans to take over as majority leader when the Senate reconvened on Jan. 7.
In a written statement issued after the incident, he said: "As a doctor, my first instincts are to help, and I was privileged to offer my assistance today at the scene of this horrible accident. My heart goes out to this family which must face the start of the New Year with this terrible tragedy." He also praised the emergency medical personnel and law enforcement officers who worked at the scene of the accident.
Services for the three youngsters will take place in Tampa, Zamore said. Viewing will be on Friday from 7 to 9 p.m. at Morning Glory Funeral Chapel on North Nebraska Avenue and then on Saturday from 10 to 11 a.m. at New Life Pentecostal Church on Bougainvillea Avenue. Funeral services will follow at 11 a.m. at the church.
Other survivors in addition to the children's parents and Zamore and his wife include Zamore's brother and two sisters and Stella Kali's sister, all on St. Thomas.
A trust fund has been established at Bank of America in Fort Lauderdale to assist the family with the funeral expenses for the three children. Zamore said the funds also could go toward medical expenses. He said he was not sure what insurance coverage his sister and her family had.
"Ask the community to pray that she will recover," Zamore said of his sister. "That's a lot more important than money."
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