East Liberty family grieves ‘baby girl’ killed by runaway SUV
Carla Harris saw blood on her daughter’s blue jacket before paramedics arrived, and she knew Shamera was dead.
On Monday, no sunlight permeated the East Liberty home where family members and friends invited the Tribune-Review to talk about the life of Shamera Harris, 12, who died the night before when her father’s Ford Explorer rolled backward, dragging the girl into a tree while her mother tried frantically to crawl into the driver’s seat and put the SUV in park, she said.
The girl’s father, Richard Benton, 53, slurred his speech and smelled of alcohol at the scene of the crash on Schenley Manor Drive, according to the criminal complaint police filed when charging him with drunken driving.
Carla Harris said Benton “seemed normal” when he dropped by late Sunday and offered to pick up Shamera and a friend from The Waterworks mall.
“If I had known he was drinking, I never would’ve let him (drive),” she said.
On their way to the other child’s home on Schenley Manor Drive, Benton pulled over to snap a picture. Benton was “messing around with the gear shifter” just before Shamera stepped out of the car, police said Harris told them.
Officials weren’t sure how the SUV caught the girl or how quickly the car rolled back. Collision investigators will inspect the vehicle, Lt. Daniel Herrmann said. He called the incident a “terrible accident.”
“If there’s reason to believe (Benton) is responsible for this girl’s death, then there will be charges,” Herrmann said.
Teachers at Pittsburgh Obama 6-12 School said through Pittsburgh Public Schools spokeswoman Ebony Pugh that Shamera was “a quiet, pleasant young lady who always followed the rules in every one of her classrooms.” The school was closed because of a power outage, but counselors will be available on Tuesday, Pugh said.
Funeral arrangements through Cleft of the Rock Ministries were not finalized.
Shamera is the second in her family to die suddenly, the family said.
One relative, Jacquet Bazemore, 63, of Highland Park, pointed to a pair of fading photographs on top of the family’s television. Shamera, age 8 or 9, grins in pastels beneath long, dark braids. Shakkeem Harris, then a toddler, laughs with his father, Shawn. Two years ago, officers found Shakkeem, at age 22, face-down and shot in Morningside’s Joe Natoli Field.
“We’ve endured so much tragedy,” said Joyce Harris, their grandmother. “Now both our babies are gone.”
It’s hard to reconcile senseless mistakes, Shawn Harris said.
Carla Harris, 51, a longtime crossing guard at Dilworth School in Highland Park, called Shamera her miracle baby and best friend.
“I wasn’t supposed to have children, but God blessed me with her at 40. We did everything together,” she said. “She walked to my post at 4:30 (p.m.) every day, her and all her girlfriends. Now I’ll see them cross and not my baby girl.”
Officers said Benton refused field and chemical sobriety tests. He was released from Allegheny County Jail midday under conditions that he report to court at 10 a.m. Tuesday and participate in a substance-abuse treatment program.
Court records indicate Benton, whom Harris said is a school bus driver, pleaded guilty to driving under the influence in Georgia in 1996 and to simple harassment in 2012. Allegheny County records don’t indicate whom Benton harassed.