A pregnant Peirce School teaching assistant died in a freak accident in Florida on Sunday, March 18, when an out-of-control car crashed into a hotel cabana that she and her husband were in as part of a weekend getaway that was a gift from the church.
Fort Lauderdale police said a driver crashed her four-door sedan into a cabana at the Riverside Hotel on East Las Olas Blvd. about 1:30 p.m.
Witnesses said the couple had been lying by the pool when the woman, identified as Alanna DeMella, 26, of Roberts Road, Medford, got up to use the restroom inside the cabana. Moments later, the car crashed into the two-story building, plowing through two concrete pillars.
Ft. Lauderdale Fire Rescue workers prepare to remove the vehicle from the scene March 18. / Sun Sentinel photo
The office of Superintendent Kathleen Bodie issued a statement at 10:45 a.m. March 19 that the public schools "received very sad news last night that" the special-education teaching assistant in the third-grade co-taught program at Peirce "was killed ... while on a long weekend vacation in Florida. Alanna was 7 months' pregnant.
"This tragedy is heartbreaking for all of us. Our hearts and prayers go out to Alanna's husband and family.
"A team of district social workers and psychologists along with the STARS crisis team and counselors from AYCC are at Peirce today supporting teachers, staff and children and will continue to offer support throughout the week."
DeMella was new to the public schools this year and had started in in September, the administration said.
In comments that are published with permission, Arlington parent June Rutkowski wrote to the Arlington email list March 19:
"We are all devastated at the loss of Alanna DeMella. She was a fabulous young teacher.
"My daughter and her classmates loved her in that deep, sweet, beautiful way that young children love their teachers."
Peirce Principal Karen Hartley told a Boston television station, "We are devastated and heartbroken by the news."
According to a report on Channel 5, David Gordon, a tourist from the United Kingdom, said, "It's a tragic accident, it's sad. There was no braking, no screeching of tires, just a big explosion."
DeMella's unborn baby also died. Her husband, Michael DeMella was treated at Broward General Hospital for minor injuries and released, hospital officials said. He was also in the cabana when the car hit, witnesses said.
Boston.com, citing police, reported the driver of the car was identified as Rosa Rivera Kim, 34, of Plantation, Fla. She suffered injuries that were not life-threatening and is hospitalized in stable condition at the Broward General Medical Center.
Bodie's office updated its statement an hour later to remove the claim that the driver was drunk. So far, no news account has confirmed that. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported that investigators are still determining if charges will be filed.
This story was first published at 8:20 a.m. Monday, March 19, 2012, and updated numerous times thereafter.