3-year-old drives water scooter into neighbor's porch
BY HANNAH SAMPSON
Russ Melina doesn't let his 7-year-old daughter near the lake's edge when people are out riding in water scooters.
That was his rule until Sunday, when a 3-year-old girl on a runaway Yamaha water bike sped across Lake Margaret, careened through his backyard, shot under a swing set and barreled through a screen, landing on the back porch of his unincorporated South Broward home.
''Obviously that's not far enough,'' Melina said of the backyard rule. ``We're going to start keeping her in the front yard.''
NOT SERIOUSLY INJURED
The little girl on the water scooter, identified by the Broward Sheriff's Office as Caralina Santiago, was not seriously injured in the accident.
Her 75- to 100-foot journey through the backyard of the home at 3817 SW 33rd St. bypassed a large tree and stopped short of a sliding glass door just before 4:15 p.m.
Caralina's father, Joseph Santiago, told Melina he was in the water behind his home at 3740 SW 32nd Ct. in the Lake Forest neighborhood next to the Yamaha when the child took off. Melina said Santiago told him that he and the girl ride the water scooter together often and that the girl knows how to turn on the watercraft.
The Santiago family could not be reached for comment Sunday.
Jenny Smith, Melina's neighbor, watched the cross-lake ride, an estimated 100 yards, from her dock.
''She just gunned it,'' Smith said. ``It was terrifying . . . We knew she was going to hit something.''
Melina was watching the Miami Dolphins game when he heard the familiar sound of a Jet Ski. Then he heard it get closer. Next thing he knew, it was almost in his house.
''I saw the Jet Ski on my screened-in porch with a little girl in it,'' he said. ``She was terrified.''
Bonnie Melina, Russ Melina's wife, said: ``First I'm thinking there's a Jet Ski on my porch. That can't be good.''
Then she saw the girl, wearing a life vest, and wondered, ``Where is the grown-up?''
Witnesses said the grown-up, Joseph Santiago, was swimming frantically across the lake after his daughter.
The Yamaha's path through the backyard was littered with a broken ladder, a snapped wooden post from a swing set and a torn screen. Russ Melina, a yacht carpenter, built the wood play set.
Broward County Fire-Rescue spokesman Todd LeDuc said the girl suffered minor facial injuries. She was not wearing a helmet, but LeDuc said her relatively good condition ``is a testament to the resiliency of small children.''
She was taken to Memorial Regional Hospital and listed as stable Sunday night.
''She's so lucky,'' Russ Melina said. ``She's as lucky as they get.''