Tragedy strikes one of St. Pete’s first families

BY ALLEN A. BUCHANAN, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG — Three sisters: LaMour, 29, India, 24, Tehira Welch, 18, and a friend, Antwayne Robinson, 25, of Garner, N.C., had completed a four-day church convention full of youthful praise, worship and celebration when tragedy struck.

They were on their way back to St. Pete Sunday evening when a Ford F-150 going east bound on State Road 70 in DeSoto County apparently hydroplaned, spun out of control and crossed over into westbound traffic crashing into the rear of the Volkswagen Passat that LaMour was driving.

“We’re not really sure what exactly happened,” said Darlene Butler-Welch, the mother of the two younger women.

“They said it might’ve happened around 5 p.m. yesterday,” added Lillie Welch, the mother of the older Welch daughter on Monday afternoon.

The entire St. Petersburg area was stunned as news of the deadly vehicular crash hit the airwaves, Tweeter and Facebook.

“I still cannot wrap my brain around what happened…I just can’t,” said Deborah Figgs-Sanders, executive director of the Childs Park YMCA.

Thirty-year-old Jennifer Zuniga of Venus, and driver of the F-150 pickup truck, died in the accident leaving behind her 6-year-old son who survived the crash and was taken to Tampa General Hospital.

The three sisters’ father, Pastor Ricardo Welch, is the senior pastor of Prayer Tower Church of God in Christ. He and his wife were in a separate car and had left before the women along with two of LaMour’s three children.

“It is unimaginable. I can’t express words. Anyone knows me, I love my girls,” the father told WTSP 10 News. “To lose my daughters in this fashion has caused a rip in my heart that can’t be explained.”

India was a star on the rise. Her voice was reminiscent of Mahalia Jackson, but according to her close friend Marlo Scott, she didn’t want to be known just for her singing.

“She had a big heart for the community. She wanted to follow in her grandfather’s footsteps and continue his legacy of being a community activist. Her first priority was her church. Her heart’s desire was to help with her church and the community,” said Scott.

Scott was getting ready to interview her for The Weekly Challenger about an event she was putting together in January at Gibbs High School, where she was once class president.

“The event was going to be a festival encompassing family, community, social issues, education and spirituality. It would have been the first of its kind held at Gibbs,” she said.

LaMour was also a talented singer who worked as a nurse. She often performed at her father’s church. She was very supportive of India, and according to Scott, India would jokingly say, “She should be after 24 years.”

All three sisters had a close and loving relationship. Tehira wanted to be just like India, according to Scott. Partially deaf, she took to fashion as a way to express her creative side. A student of art at Gibbs High School, she would have been a senior this fall in the Pinellas County Center for the Arts Program.

The community gathered at Prayer Tower to remember and give comfort to the family early Monday, and again that night for services led by Elder Samuel Davis, the girls’ cousin.

The Welch family is one of St. Pete’s oldest families. The girl’s great-grandparents, Flagmon and Gussie Welch, came to St. Petersburg in 1917 from Alachua County. Their cousin, Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch, has been keeping the public updated on his Facebook page of the services honoring the four young lives that were lost.

  • Thurs., Aug. 13 at 6 p.m. – Community Choir rehearsal at Prayer Tower Church of God in Christ, 1137 37th St. S., St. Petersburg
  • Fri., Aug. 14 at 4 p.m. – Public Viewing at Lawson Funeral Home, 4535 Central Ave., St. Petersburg
  • Fri., Aug. 14 at 6 p.m. – Music and Dance Celebration of Life (Wake)  at Prayer Tower Church of God in Christ, 1137 37th St., St. Petersburg
  • Sat., Aug. 15, Noon – Homegoing Service – First Baptist Church of St. Petersburg, 1900 Gandy Blvd., St Pete.

The homegoing service was initially going to be held at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church; however, due to expected attendance it had to be moved to a larger church.

Ways to help

  • Donations to defray the cost of the funeral can be made online at www.gofundme.com/welchangels
  • Cash or check donations can be made at any Tampa Bay TD Bank location, with a check payable to the Welch Angels Fund. Contact Carolyn Riggins 727-866-7903
  • A scholarship fund for the surviving children has been set up at Achieva Credit Union c/o C & M Welch Foundation, 3629 11th Ave. N., St. Petersburg, FL 33713

On behalf of Pastor Ricardo Welch, Darlene, Lillie and the Welch family, we sincerely thank you for your extraordinary love and support. Please continue to lift us up in prayer.

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