Jennifer Jenkins was a proud new mother, eager to show off her baby to friends in Orlando.
Beside her in the car sat Kathleen O’Callaghan, a life-long friend.
Both Naples women were killed Friday night when a semi-truck struck the sedan they were in as Jenkins drove through rural Hardee County.
Her husband was following in an SUV with their 2-month-old daughter Ashley Elizabeth and witnessed the crash. Both received minor injuries and were home in Naples on Saturday.
“Jennifer was an amazing person. We lost someone too early,” Daniel Jenkins said of his wife of almost a decade.
Jennifer Jenkins, 35, was an orthopedic nurse at NCH Healthcare System - Downtown Naples Hospital.
The St. John Neumann High School graduate went on to the University of Central Florida, where she met her husband.
She changed career plans from health care administration to nursing and got a degree from Edison State College, Daniel Jenkins said, because she wanted to be involved more with the patients.
“She always wanted to do more for other people,” he said.
After surviving cervical cancer, pregnancy was difficult. The premature birth of the Jenkins’ daughter in October came after a series of miscarriages.
But the last few months had been a long-awaited entrance into motherhood. Ultrasound photos and pictures of the new baby pepper Jennifer Jenkins’s Facebook page.
For Christmas, her husband gave her an iPad so she could juggle holding the baby and updating pictures online, he said.
She cared enough during the holidays to meticulously wrap gifts and handwrite every note.
“It was the best Christmas,” he said in a phone interview Saturday. “My daughter will never really truly know her mother... she was the most caring and wonderful person.”
And she was enjoying spending time over the holidays with a longtime friend she grew up with in Naples.
O’Callaghan, 34, was a world traveler. She was currently visiting from England, according to Daniel Jenkins.
Her family in Naples declined to comment Saturday.
The four were headed to Orlando to visit friends. They took the back roads to avoid traffic.
The semi, driven by Michael J. Phillips, 45, of Lake Wales, was headed west on State Road 64 in Hardee County.
It crossed into oncoming traffic around 5:30 p.m. Friday in Zolfo Springs, near Blue Jay Road.
Jennifer Jenkins was driving eastbound in a 2005 Toyota Corolla sedan, with O’Callaghan in the passengers seat. She hit the brakes and steered right, to avoid the crash, according to a Florida Highway Patrol report.
The truck still hit the front of the car, pushing it back and rotating it to face west.
The two women died at the scene.
Daniel Jenkins, 33, was in the SUV behind them with the baby. He saw his wife crash and veered left to avoid hitting the two vehicles, spinning counterclockwise before overturning.
Both he and the infant were taken to the hospital with minor injuries.
Phillips suffered serious injuries and was taken to Tampa General Hospital. Whether alcohol was a factor in the crash is still pending for the truck driver.
All drivers and passengers were wearing seat belts or restraints during the crash. Charges are pending, the FHP reports.