ST. LOUIS • Caleb Lee, 9, and his brother Evan, 5, had just finished a trip of a lifetime: their first airplane ride, their first time to see the ocean, their first visit to Disney World.
Shortly after the boys landed back in St. Louis with their family Tuesday morning, they rode in a car with their mother and an aunt to go home. On the outskirts of St. Louis Lambert International Airport, a speeding SUV being chased by police slammed into their family’s sedan.
Evan suffered a broken elbow. However, Caleb remained in pediatric intensive care with swelling on his brain. He was in critical and unstable condition.
"We are holding on to every hope," Caleb's father, Dennis Lee, said. "He is fighting."
The Lee family lives in unincorporated south St. Louis County.
Six family members in all went on the Disney trip. An aunt, Lisa LaForest, said the boys’ biggest thrills were swimming in the ocean and holding a baby alligator at an animal farm. And of course at the theme park, “They really enjoyed all the rides.”
The boys’ mother, Candice Lee, 30, was critically injured as well but she was stable. She had already undergone one surgery and will need another; her injuries include a broken pelvis, said the boys’ father.
The family issued a statement that said, in part: “They were loving life. Then in just a blink of an eye our entire family’s lives were destroyed.”
The boys’ aunt Brittany Lee, 28, was sitting in the front passenger seat. She had cuts and scrapes and was released from a hospital.
Police say Caleb was in the rear passenger seat, behind the driver. Evan was in the right rear passenger seat. Their father said Evan was hospitalized with a splint on his arm and wanted to go home but is still being monitored by doctors.
LaForest said the six family members were in two cars as they left the airport Tuesday. She was not in the car that was hit. LaForest said, “We drove off maybe two seconds before they did.”
When she saw the police cars racing by her to the scene of the crash, LaForest said she tried to reach Candice or Brittany Lee by cellphone because she was worried they weren’t behind her any longer. When she couldn’t reach them by phone, she returned to the airport and saw the crash.
Police said they were innocent motorists whose car just happened to be in the path of the teens in a stolen vehicle.
The crash was at 9:47 am. Tuesday. Teens in a stolen SUV fled a Normandy police officer who had tried to stop the vehicle on westbound Interstate 70 near Interstate 170.
The driver didn’t pull over and instead sped off westbound. Police discovered the car had been taken in an armed carjacking in the Central West End early Tuesday.
The driver exited Interstate 70 onto Lambert International Boulevard and struck the Lee family’s car near an intersection at the west end of Terminal 2. The crash was just a minute or two after the Normandy officer tried to stop the SUV.
A 16-year-old boy was driving the fleeing vehicle; another boy, 15, was in the front passenger seat, and a 15-year-old girl was in the back. They were all taken for treatment and will be held in custody.
Police have refused to identify the teens because they are juveniles.
The earlier carjacking was reported about 12:15 a.m. Tuesday.
In that crime, two males took a silver 2010 Toyota RAV4 with California plates. The carjackers had approached two St. Louis University students in the 4000 block of West Pine Boulevard and asked for a ride to a MetroLink station, according to a campus alert sent out early Tuesday. After the victims agreed and the males got in the car, one of them pulled a gun and demanded the victims’ money, phones and the SUV, police said.
The victims were allowed to get out near Sarah Street and McPherson Avenue. The carjackers drove off in the SUV. The students, a man and woman, both 21, were not injured. The carjackers were described as between 20 and 25 years old, and it was unclear whether they were the same people as the teens arrested after the crash.
A GoFundMe account has been set up in the Lee family’s name to help them pay medical expenses. It had raised more than $18,000 by Wednesday evening.
Dennis Lee works at Schnucks, and Candice Lee is a hair stylist, according to KTVI. Dennis Lee said the boys attend Forder Elementary in the Mehlville School District.
“Me and my wife want the public to know how we appreciate — and our family and friends appreciate — support, we also want everyone to know how our lives have been flipped upside down, changed immensely beyond belief,” he said.