A Lakeland woman and two of her children were killed Monday evening — and two other family members were critically injured — in a horrific two-vehicle crash on Kathleen Road just south of the Memorial Boulevard overpass.

Mavaria “Vari” Carter, 33, who worked as a patient representative at Lakeland Regional Health, was pronounced dead at the scene. Carter’s 6-year-old daughter Sariyah Stephens and 13-year-old son Denver Stephens — both of whom attended Rochelle School of the Arts — were rushed to Lakeland Regional where they later died as well, according to Lakeland Police.

Carter’s brother Jeremy Felton, 30, of Lakeland, and her 14-year-old son Avery Stephens Jr., a student at Kathleen High School, are in critical condition at Lakeland Regional Health. 

LPD reported that the five family members were in a red 2015 Cadillac SUV headed southbound on Kathleen Road. Felton was driving, Carter was in the passenger seat and the three children were in the back. 

At 7:46 p.m., the Cadillac attempted to turn left onto Quincy Street and crossed into the path of a black 2016 Dodge Challenger that was traveling northbound. When the Challenger hit the family’s vehicle, the force of the impact sent the Cadillac spinning in a northeast direction where it struck a utility pole.

LPD spokeswoman Stephanie Kerr said Felton and the three children were ejected from the Cadillac.

The driver of the Challenger, Jeremiah Rivera, 20, of Lakeland, was taken to Tampa General Hospital where he is in stable condition. He was alone in his vehicle.

“It appears that the driver and juvenile passengers of the Cadillac and the driver of the Challenger were unrestrained at the time of the crash,” Kerr said in a news release.

All of the victims were transported by ambulance. Medical helicopters were grounded because of lightning and intermittent strong rain.

Rochelle School of the Arts sent an email to parents Tuesday morning saying counselors would be at the school to assist students and staff.

“We are deeply saddened to learn that a vehicle crash occurred last night, and two Rochelle students and their mother died from injuries sustained in the accident. … This is a heartbreaking loss for the entire Rochelle community, and we are praying for the victims’ family and friends,” read the email, which was sent at 8:53 a.m.

Polk County Schools Superintendent Frederick Heid remarked last week that the school year was already one of the most tragic he could recall, with 10 students having died in traffic accidents since classes began last month. The latest crash brings that toll to 12.

LPD, Polk County Fire Rescue and the Lakeland Fire Department all responded. At 8:32 p.m. the Lakeland Fire Department turned the scene over to members of LPD’s traffic homicide team.

Kerr said the roadway was shut down for approximately four hours while the scene was processed.

The crash remains an open investigation. Anyone with information regarding the crash is asked to contact Traffic Crash Investigator Officer Camillo Almeida at Camillo.almeida@lakelandgov.net.

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Cindy Glover moved to Lakeland in 2021 after spending two decades in South Florida. Her career has included journalism, education, digital marketing and public relations. She worked for the Albuquerque Journal and South Florida Sun-Sentinel and spent a year as a community engagement coordinator for the City of Lakeland before joining LkldNow.

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