Amari Clark was her mother's shopping buddy and best friend. "That was my heart," said Apryl Sherrod, a 29-year-old single mom. She had given birth to her only child at the age of 16. "That was all I had. That wasn't just my daughter, that was my best friend. She was the center of my world."
The only one of the pair to survive a head-on crash Friday, Sherrod on Saturday will lay her 12-year-old daughter to rest.
A wake is scheduled from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at New Life in Christ Church, at 689 Scott Troy Road in Lebanon, with a funeral immediately following at the church. Amari will be buried at Lake View Memorial Gardens in Fairview Heights.
Andrew Fraticelli, a 20-year-old from Collinsville, is accused of driving his Jeep Cherokee across the center line on Illinois 159 in Fairview Heights on Friday night and striking the Ford Taurus that Sherrod and Amari were in.
Sherrod, who emerged from the hospital Saturday with bruises, a sprained ankle and more than 100 stitches in her tongue and forehead, remembers the night in detail.
She and Amari had just finished shoe shopping; she got her girl a new pair of Reebok tennis shoes from Shoe Carnival in Fairview Heights. They had stopped for dinner down the road at Taco Bell, and they were headed to Kmart in Collinsville to look for new bedding sets for each of them.
While heading north on Illinois 159, Sherrod said she was driving in the far right lane. She saw a vehicle swerving in the southbound lanes up ahead and thought to herself, "I'm happy we're over here because that car is driving kind of crazy."
The Jeep appeared increasingly out of control, and the large sports utility vehicle in front of her swerved, so she tried to stay behind it for protection. The next thing she knew, the Jeep was coming right at her. She felt the impact, and then she blacked out. When she came to, she was able to see that her daughter was awake and able to talk, but Sherrod was in and out of consciousness after that.
Her daughter looked frightened, she said tearfully, and the last words she heard from her were "My name is Amari Clark, and that's my mom," spoken to the emergency workers.
The two were rushed to separate St. Louis hospitals -- Sherrod in an ambulance to St. Louis University Hospital, and Amari in a helicopter to Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center. In and out of sleep, Sherrod asked all night and the next morning about her daughter, and she begged to see her. She realizes now that hospital staff were probably stalling her. Her mother came to her hospital room Saturday to give her the bad news -- that Amari had died in surgery that morning. Her aorta was severed in the accident, likely when she hit the dashboard. When doctors tried to repair it in surgery, she had lost too much blood and just didn't make it, Sherrod said.
"'Amari went on to be with your brother,'" her mother told her Saturday morning, referring to Larry Sherrod, who was murdered in 2006.
Police said the mother and daughter weren't wearing seat belts. Sherrod said she doesn't remember whether they were. They usually did, but she said they were in and out of the car frequently that night as they ran errands, so it's possible they didn't have them on.
Fraticelli, who was treated at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis and released, was charged Monday in the accident with two counts of aggravated driving under the influence and one count of reckless homicide. He is suspected of being under the influence of heroin at the time of the accident. He is being held at the St. Clair County Jail on $250,000 bail.
Sherrod said she has forgiven the driver. She said he sounds like a young man who got mixed up with the wrong crowd. She herself was a wild child at one point, she said.
"We all have our times ... I don't have any hate in my heart or anything for him."
Amari, a sixth-grader at Whiteside Middle School, was on the bowling team and played the clarinet. Before middle school, she sang in the glee club, and she planned to try out for cheerleading next school year.
Recently, the girl told her mom how proud she was to have donated a couple of dollars at school to the victims of the tsunami in Japan.
Sherrod, who lives in Shiloh and is a teller at a credit union there, said her daughter never met a stranger. She was mature.
"I think she did more raising of me than I did of her," Sherrod said.
Her daughter listened to the music of Tina Turner and Michael Jackson.
"She had a really old soul," she said.
The two celebrated Sherrod's birthday the Wednesday before the accident at Applebee's restaurant. Amari was always worrying about other people; she told her mom she wanted her to find a boyfriend or husband. Sherrod told her she didn't need anyone because Amari was the most important person in her life.
"She was the sweetest child anyone could ever meet."
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