When Andre, 34, was struck and killed crossing Lee Road after her car broke down last Tuesday, her death threw the lives of those children — ages 3 to 17 — into chaos.
Now split up between the homes of three relatives, her four daughters and six sons are shell shocked and yearn to be back together, said Andre’s mother, Andrea Renee Wingster.
“She always kept her children together, always. Words can’t describe how close they were,” Wingster said.
A counselor who has worked with Andre’s children for the past year and a half said their mother’s death is one of the worst tragedies he’s seen in 25 years of working with families.
“It really makes you appreciate what you have,” said social worker John Lott III.
The family loved to walk together to the park, swim, go to the beach and the movies. At home, they played board games like Monopoly and Uno, and video games, when they had a game system that worked.
“Every time I close my eyes, she’s right there,” said Wingster, 51. “I can’t believe she’s gone.”
The grandmother plans to take in all 10 of her daughter’s children, but she’ll need to move to a larger place. A Christmas tree and a few bicycles will be delivered this week, but the children will need “everything,” including food and clothing, in the weeks and months to come.
Andre, who was divorced from the father of her first four children, leaves behind Kiara, 17; Kierin, 15; Kiera, 14; Kaira, 12; Jada, 11; Jadarius, 10; Jadon, 8; Jalen, 7; Jalonta, 4; and Javonta, 3.
“She did whatever she needed to do, for them,” even though it was a struggle, Wingster said. “She did it all by herself.”
Her six middle children were with Andre, heading home after a tutoring session at Lake Silver Elementary for two of the youngsters, when she was struck. Wingster said the children were on the side of the road and Andre was crossing back with water to cool her 2000 Dodge Durango, which had overheated for the second time that day.
According to the police report, a 2005 Honda sports utility vehicle struck her while she was crossing the westbound lanes of Lee Road east of Edgewater Drive a little after 6:30 p.m. There are no charges pending against the driver.
In the hospital, Andre tried to take off the neck brace that doctors had put on to stabilize her. “She said she had to get home to her kids because they needed her,” Wingster said.
She never made it. A blood clot broke off and lodged in her lungs, killing her.
Because of long-standing car trouble, Andre had moved the family to a three-bedroom apartment within walking distance of her primary job. As a home health aide for Firstat Nursing Services in Winter Park, Fla., she earned about $10 an hour helping an elderly woman with daily tasks such as bathing, cooking and cleaning.
Andre was one of Firstat’s best, most-reliable employees, said company president Denny Allen.
“We have had thousands of employees through the years,” he said. “If there was an all-star team, she would have been on it.”
Lott has been helping the family through their tragedy. He has arranged for the children to get counseling through an alliance of African-American ministers. Lake Silver Elementary staff members also have taken up a collection for the family, and Wingster is working to set up a trust fund for the children.
A funeral service for Andre has been tentatively set for Saturday.
Wingster, a food service employee at Orlando Health, was the person Andre turned to when she needed help, Lott said. Although Wingster had a string of arrests in the 1980s and ‘90s, she appears to be the best placement for the children, said Kristi Gray, public information officer with the Orlando office of the Florida Department of Children and Families.
“On the bright side of it, there are relatives willing to take in the children,” Gray said. “It would be nearly impossible for us to keep those children together in foster care.”
Andre’s death has been particularly hard on her eldest daughter Kiara, 17, who helped her mother take care of all the younger ones, and on Javonta, 3, who was so attached that he cried when his mother left him to go to the bathroom. The two oldest and two youngest children are staying with their grandmother. The rest are with aunts and uncles.
“Just pray for me and the children,” Wingster said. “We’re gonna need it.”
By Lauren Roth - Orlando Sentinel (MCT)
©2012 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)
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