Daughter, 12, dies after being struck by runaway SUV
February 24, 2014 11:55 PM
Carla Harris holds a photograph of her deceased 12-year-old daughter Shamera.
By Liz Navratil / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
When Carla Harris left her boyfriend Sunday night, she said she told him not to drink. They needed to drive later that night to pick up their daughter and a friend at the Waterworks Mall.
Pittsburgh police said Richard Benton, 53, of Wilkinsburg did not heed Ms. Harris' advice. When Ms. Harris, 52, of East Liberty returned home, she said Mr. Benton, who she did not realize had been drinking, volunteered to drive.
They got in a black Ford Explorer to pick up Shamera Harris and drop off one of her friends at a home on Schenley Manor Drive in Stanton Heights.
When they arrived at the friend's house, Ms. Harris said, Mr. Benton asked their daughter to get out of the car so he could take a picture because she looked beautiful. Mr. Benton fiddled with the gearshift and got out of the car, she said.
The car "just took off at full speed," dragging their 12-year-old daughter and slamming into a tree.
"I just panicked and I asked him, 'What did you do?' "
Ms. Harris said she tried to stop the car but could not.
"I ran to pull her out and gave her CPR and she was already gone. I tried. I prayed over her."
Shamera died at the scene about 8:30 p.m. Sunday. When Pittsburgh police arrived, Mr. Benton smelled of alcohol, slurred his speech, was "unsteady" on his feet and had "glassy and watery eyes," according to a criminal complaint.
Mr. Benton, who was released Monday morning on nonmonetary bond, could not be reached for comment.
Police wrote in the complaint that he refused a breath test and refused to comply with field sobriety tests.
Police handcuffed Mr. Benton at the scene and took him to a station for further tests. He again refused tests, saying he wanted to contact an attorney, according to the complaint.
After consulting with the Allegheny County district attorney's office, police charged Mr. Benton with driving under the influence and took him to UPMC Mercy for treatment of minor injuries before he went to the Allegheny County Jail.
The Allegheny County medical examiner's office found during an autopsy that Shamera died of blunt force trauma and ruled her death an accident. The police investigation continues.
Ms. Harris said she did not realize Mr. Benton had been drinking and that she would not have gotten in the car -- let alone permitted children to ride in it -- if she had suspected he was drunk.
"This is a horrible death. She didn't deserve that," Ms. Harris said. Friends and family visited Ms. Harris at her Highland Park home Monday to offer condolences.
Shamera made the honor roll at Pittsburgh Dilworth PreK-5, her mother said. In her few months at Pittsburgh Obama 6-12, where she enjoyed swimming, she earned a reputation as a "pleasant young lady, who always followed the rules in every one of her classrooms," according to a statement from the school district.
The school was closed Monday due to a power outage. School support staff are expected to be available to talk to students today.
Shamera enjoyed using the computer and making plans with friends on Facebook -- like the ones she made Sunday night to see a new Kevin Hart movie at the Waterworks Mall with a group of friends.
"She was just my gift from God," her mother said.
Ms. Harris said she had been told that she would never have children, then at age 40, she had Shamera, her only child.
She said Mr. Benton called her after he was released from jail Monday. "I can't talk to him right now. I just can't. He has other children. I have none."
Liz Navratil: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1438 or on Twitter @LizNavratil. Robert Zullo contributed. First Published February 23, 2014 10:31 PM