Colorful balloons, stuffed animals and candles decorate the mailbox near where 6-year-old Betasha Bien-Aime lost her life Wednesday as she walked to school with her grandmother.
The little girl, who loved Dora the Explorer, SpongeBob Squarepants and giving neighbors avocados from her family’s tree, was walking across Northeast 213th Place with her grandmother to get to Madie Ives Elementary School, when a 16-year-old driver in a white Mercedes struck them both.
Betasha, a first grader, died from her injuries. Her grandmother, Emilia Frenell, remains hospitalized with a broken arm and leg.
Betasha had a special treat in her backpack Wednesday — a ham and cheese sandwich, because she had a field trip to see a play.
“She asked me to give her a sandwich before she left,” said her mother in tears.
On Thursday, Betasha’s blood-stained yellow barrette was placed in the growing memorial near the school.
“This is very hard for me to deal with,” said Marie Bien-Aime, Betasha’s mother, as she stood by her fence that held a flower-covered cross and a picture of her smiling daughter.
“It’s tough when you lose a child. I couldn’t sleep at all last night.”
While grieving for the little girl, neighbors and Bien-Aime hope that Betasha’s death will be a wake up-call to people — especially teens — who speed through residential neighborhoods. They also hope Miami-Dade County will step in and address what they say is a longtime speeding problem.
“Cars speed by here everyday,” said Daniel Harvey, who came to the memorial Thursday to place a blue teddy bear for Betasha. “We knew something like this would eventually happen.”
Police have not charged the 16-year-old driver, who lives in Davie and attends nearby Dr. Michael Krop Senior High School, which has a magnet program. They are checking to see whether speed or any other distraction was involved.
It will take some time to investigate, said Miami-Dade police detective and spokesman Roy Rutland.
“The damage and science of it sometimes takes weeks,” he said.
Neighbors say they are sure speed was a factor.
“My wife heard that engine roaring,” said Lydson Beaubrun, who had been sleeping, but woke up when he heard his wife Katiana screaming. He rushed outside and found his wife giving the little girl CPR.
“I was in complete shock,” he said. He saw Betasha’s grandmother using her own clothes to swab the blood from her granddaughter. “I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing.”
The accident happened around 7:17 a.m. The teen was heading north as the pair crossed from west to east on 213th Place. The Mercedes struck the pair, knocked down an “End of School Zone” sign and hit the rear of a teal van parked on the swale.
Neighbors say teen drivers headed to Krop often speed down Northeast 213th Place — which is designated at 30 miles-per-hour — and park in the residential neighborhood so they can walk to school.
“They park here so they can leave whenever they want,” said resident Bessy Garcia as she pointed out a row of cars on swales. “They just hop the fence.”
Garcia said neighbors have complained to the county before. She said a lot of families have young children who walk to the nearby elementary school.
Miami-Dade County spokesman John Schuster said Thursday that neither principal has had any complaints about students parking in the residential area. He said that Krop’s Principal Dawn Baglos closely monitors the parking situation at the school.
Miami-Dade Commissioner Barbara Jordan, whose area includes the neighborhood around the school, said she had not gotten any complaints either, but will ask county traffic engineers to look at the area.
“Regardless, it has happened now and we need to address it now,” she said. “We have got to do something to protect our children.”
On Thursday, family and friends and even strangers stopped by the memorial to pay their respects. Grief counselors showed up at Madie Ives the day of the accident to talk to students about Betasha’s death, Schuster said.
Krop senior Marie Joseph said the accident was terrible, but not all teenagers should be painted with the same brush.
“Its not fair to punish us all because of one incident,” she said, on her way to drop off some toys at the memorial. “This was just a bad accident.”
One of the driver’s friends, a 14-year-old student who attends Attucks Middle School in Hollywood, said she hasn’t heard from her friend yet but posted a supportive message on Twitter and told the Herald, “I heard what happened and I’m praying for the little girl’s family and for her and her family.”
Dianette Lugo, Garcia’s daughter, broke down in tears as she hugged Bien-Aime.
“She was a special little girl,” she said.
Bien-Aime said she can’t even bring herself to plan her daughter’s funeral. Instead, she prefers to play with Betasha’s alphabet caterpillar and remember her daughter’s big smile.
She says she has forgiven the driver and hopes that others learn from the accident.
“There is nothing that is going to bring my daughter back,” she said. “My little girl is in heaven.”