December 2004 – February 19, 2005
ORLANDO SENTINEL, Posted February 21, 2005
DELTONA — Donald Mills wasn’t even in a hurry.
It was before 1 p.m., and his family’s housewarming party wasn’t until later Saturday night. He just needed to run back to the store to buy one last thing: balloons.
The 35-year-old tile contractor and father of four closed the tailgate to his 1997 Ford F-150 and hopped in the driver’s seat. He didn’t have to check the mirror before pulling out because he had backed into the driveway.
But as he pulled forward, the truck ran over and killed his youngest child, 22-month-old Jacob.
“”I just didn’t see him,”” a shaken Mills said Sunday, surrounded by family and friends at his Shawsbury Way home.
Inside the home’s vaulted living room, Mills sat on the floor at the feet of his wife, Cheryl, and buried his head in her lap, sobbing as she talked about how Jacob was learning his first words and still called just about everyone, including his father, “”Momma.””
“”He was a beautiful, precious boy,”” said Cheryl Mills, 40, general manager for U.S. Rep. Ric Keller’s Orlando offices. Dark-haired and dimpled, Jacob was always happy, family members said.
“”He was just so sweet with his chubby cheeks,”” said Dawn Chitwood, one of Jacob’s aunts who lives just a five-minute walk away. “”He smiled when you took his binky [pacifier].””
His family moved from Orlando into the five-bedroom home in January, partly for the increased room for Jacob.
The Mills’ have three other boys, Anthony Santos, 18, Nicholas Santos, 14, and Garrett, 8. The boys’ parents were too distraught Sunday to begin arrangements for Jacob’s funeral, but the couple said their children were handling the loss well.
“”They’re stronger than we are,”” Donald Mills said. Donald Mills is far from alone in feeling the pain of accidentally running over a child. Jacob was one of a growing number of children killed in slow-speed accidents in their driveways, according to the advocacy group Kids and Cars, which blames the increasing popularity of large vehicles that also have large blind spots.
“”So sad, so predictable, so preventable. I mean, this fits the mold,”” said Janette Fennell, director of the Leawood, Kan.-based Kids and Cars. “”These children don’t have the cognitive ability to understand that even though they can see the truck, Daddy can’t see them.””
The federal government does not track such deaths, but at least 26 children nationwide were killed from 2000 to 2004 in similar accidents involving vehicles moving forward in driveways and parking lots, according to Kids and Cars. Just as with Jacob’s death, most of the vehicles were driven by close relatives or family friends.
Still more kids, at least 302, were killed during the span by vehicles that backed over them, according to the group, which is pushing for regulations to force car makers to do more to protect children.
Many of the accidents parallel Jacob’s death in that the family is doing something out of the routine, and the driver loses track of where the children are, Fennell said.
Jacob had been eating fruit and a hot dog for lunch when his father pulled up with the party supplies. Jacob left his food to help bring things in, a new thrill for the youngster, Cheryl Mills said.
“”He was being very helpful, being one of the guys,”” she said.
Cheryl Mills was vacuuming in the living room. Neighbors in the lakeside neighborhood heard her husband’s screams and then hers.
Several people called emergency officials, including Jacob’s brother Nicholas, who ran down the street to a neighbor’s house after seeing his brother lying still on his side in the driveway.
An ambulance rushed Jacob to Florida Hospital Fish Memorial in Orange City. He was pronounced dead at 1:59 p.m.
The Volusia County Sheriff’s Office said Sunday its investigation continues but charges are unlikely.
That’s of little consolation to Donald Mills.
“”Tell parents to stop getting so busy with their lives, to spend more time with their kids,”” Mills said, “”because I’m not going to get to spend any more time with my kid.””
Jeff Libby can be reached at [email protected] or 386-253-2316.