BY GAL TZIPERMAN LOTAN
ORLANDO – The last year brought some difficult moments for Jahqui Sevilla, who escaped from Pulse nightclub after the shooting started. But she was getting better — going to college, working, playing fullback for the Orlando Anarchy women’s tackle football team.
Just after midnight Monday she was driving south on State Road 417 when her Mitsubishi drifted into the northbound lanes, hitting another car head-on. She and the other driver, 53-year-old Soraya Matias-Roth of Lakeland, were both killed.
“She was getting her life back from when it was stolen,” said Chandice Hunter, the Orlando Anarchy’s team captain. “It just breaks my heart. She’s like a little sister.”
Matias-Roth was carrying three passengers, who were injured but are expected to live, said Sgt. Kim Montes, a Florida Highway Patrol spokeswoman.
Troopers are still investigating what caused the crash.
Sevilla, 20, joined the Anarchy about two years ago, Hunter said. On the field she was driven to succeed and improve, and she didn’t shy away from taking on bigger and tougher opponents.
Off the field, she had a goofy sense of humor, Hunter said. She collected things that reminded her of her friends and loved ones, like snap-back hats or small flags or anything with the Batman logo.
“She had the best heart and the kindest soul and spirit you could ever imagine,” Hunter said. “She was always looking for the positive in any situation, and she had a smile that could light up anybody’s day, even in the darkest of hours.”
Sevilla had just completed her second semester at Valencia College, where she was taking general education courses, college spokeswoman Carol Traynor said. She also worked at a clothing store in the Altamonte Mall, Hunter said, and had talked about wanting to be a firefighter.
The night of June 11, Sevilla and some of her teammates and friends went to see the Orlando Predators Arena Football League team play, then went to Pulse to dance at Latin Night.
As closing time neared, most of the group had left the club. Only Sevilla, her teammate Paula Blanco, and Blanco’s boyfriend, Cory Connell, were left inside, Hunter wrote in the days after the attack.
When the shooting started, Blanco was hit in the forearm. Sevilla kept pressure on the wound, waited until they could safely move and helped guide her outside. Connell was one of the 49 killed in the shooting.
On New Year’s Day, Sevilla rode on a float in the Rose Parade in Pasadena, Calif., with two other survivors, Victor Baez Febo and Isaiah Henderson, as well as Pulse owner Barbara Poma.
Photos from the parade show Sevilla smiling on the flower-covered float, with a striped gray-and-white scarf around her neck and a rainbow ribbon pinned to her coat.
“My heart is so broken with the loss of such a beautiful, pure soul,” Poma wrote on her Facebook page Tuesday morning. “Jahqui Sevilla you are so loved, and I was so blessed to have gotten the chance to be in your life.”