Fort Worth police still untangling cause of wreck that killed 4

FORT WORTH -- Police are still trying to sort out what sparked a fiery crash early Sunday that claimed the lives of four people, including three children from separate families.

Livita Simms, 25, was reportedly driving her two children, two other children belonging to a friend and another child who had been invited along. Her Toyota Corolla left a northbound Interstate 35W service road in south Fort Worth about 1:30 a.m. Sunday and crashed into a concrete pillar, bursting into flames.

Relatives of two of the deceased children say they have no idea where Simms was taking the children at that hour.

Simms, 13-year-old Elijah Drisdle and an unidentified girl who relatives believe is Simms' 5-year-old daughter were pronounced dead at the scene.

A fourth person, 13-year-old Deguone Matlock Jr., was rescued by firefighters from the burning car but died from his injuries Monday afternoon at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas.

It appears to be the most fatalities in a Tarrant County wreck since four Fort Worth teenagers were killed by a drunken driver on Loop 820 South in August 2005. The drunken driver also died.

Deguone's mother, Lizzie Taylor, said Deguone and his 9-year-old brother, Reginald Clay, had been staying with her fiance and stepfather while she was away for the weekend. She said Simms stopped by the house about 10 p.m. Saturday and asked Taylor's stepfather whether she could take the children to a movie.

"He thought it was OK for them to go," Taylor said, explaining that Simms had watched the boys before when she was away. "I'm not blaming him."

Shameka Johnson, Elijah's mother, said she was at church about 9 p.m. Saturday when she received a call from a woman who she believed was one of Deguone's relatives, asking whether Elijah could go with them to the movies.

"I just figured there was no harm. Let them go watch a movie," Johnson said. "... Next thing you know, I got a phone call that my son got killed in a wreck. I have no idea what they were doing out that late."

Taylor said she learned of the wreck Sunday from relatives and rushed over to Parkland. Though Deguone was badly burned, Taylor said, she recognized him by his feet and chipped teeth.

Reginald returned home from the hospital Tuesday evening, in a wheelchair and with a rod implanted in his broken leg, Taylor said.

Simms' 11-year-old son suffered minor injuries and was released from the hospital Monday.

Possible 7th person

Natrayia Cain, aunt of Deguone and Reginald, said Reginald has told relatives that a seventh person was inside the car -- a female friend of Simms and his mother.

"She and the driver were arguing," Cain recounted Reginald saying. "Apparently the girl pulled the steering wheel and [Simms] lost control."

The woman fled before emergency crews arrived, Cain said Reginald told the family.

Lt. Paul Henderson, a police spokesman, said police are looking into the 9-year-old boy's claims but cautioned that the child has given investigators conflicting information that could be due to head trauma.

Henderson said that while police did find another woman's purse inside the Corolla, there is no evidence to suggest that the woman was inside the car at the time of the wreck.

"According to the accident investigators, there is no way that anyone sitting in the passenger seat would have been able to walk away from the accident without injury based on the damage to the vehicle itself," Henderson said.

He said investigators are trying to locate the woman, however, to return her purse and question her about Simms' whereabouts and activities before the crash.

"They're trying to establish what the driver's activities were prior to getting into the car and whether or not alcohol could be a contributing factor," he said.

Children remembered

Deguone, nicknamed "Little Bubba," loved playing football, playing video games and going door to door to offer help to his neighbors, his aunt said.

Cain said Deguone took it upon himself to help care for his grandfather, whose right leg had been amputated.

"He was like a young caregiver to him," she said. "He pushed him around in the wheelchair. He bathed him, helped put his clothes on. He pretty much gave him everything he needed."

Cain said sometimes employees at a neighborhood grocery store would even pay Deguone a few dollars to gather shopping carts and bring them in.

"He was known around the city," Cain said. "Everyone he came in contact with, he touched their lives in some way."

Counselors have been available to Deguone and Elijah's classmates at Wedgwood 6th Grade Center.

"I've had a lot of people come over from school, his teachers. I've been flooded," said Johnson, Elijah's mother. "God's good. My baby was loved by so many people."

Nicknamed "Dinky," Elijah loved skateboarding, playing guitar and listening to rock 'n' roll. Johnson said she hopes people will remember her son for the way he lived, not the way he died.

"He made a friend everywhere he went," Johnson said. "He brought strangers to my house. He said they were hungry and he would feed them."

Johnson said that her son enjoyed attending Bible study and that, almost as if he somehow knew, he had recently been fascinated with learning more about the afterlife.

"He always wanted to know how heaven is. During the last couple of weeks of his life, he was always asking, 'Mama, how is heaven?'" she said, her voice cracking. "He knows now."

DEANNA BOYD, 817-390-7655

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