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Judge awards father custody of injured daughter, remains of 2 sons

FHP report says mother driving SUV that struck pole had been drinking

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YULEE, Fla. – A father of three children involved in a deadly car crash Saturday night will get custody of his daughter, who is still in the hospital, and the bodies of his two sons who died. 

A Nassau County judge awarded Andrew Bird temporary custody of his 7-year-old daughter, Nina, and the remains of his sons, 8-year-old Nehemiah and 9-year-old Nicholai.

Calling the incident a staggering tragedy, Judge Adrian Soud said the fact that the children's mother, Tonya Capallia-Eason, admitted to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement that she had been drinking before getting behind the wheel of an SUV with those three children and four others inside was a factor in his decision.

A second factor in the judge's decision was that the mother also asked a witness to taint Bird’s character to reduce his chances of getting custody.

"She had two drinks, two shots and three or four pudding shots before getting into the vehicle with the children and driving," Bird said.

Capallia-Eason, who was also injured in the crash, was driving seven children home from a Halloween party about 11:30 p.m. The Florida Highway Patrol accident report said alcohol was a factor in the single-vehicle crash, and one of the teenagers who was in the Ford Expedition said people at the party urged Capallia-Eason not to drive that night.

Wednesday morning's ruling came after an emergency custody hearing Tuesday at the Nassau County Courthouse stretched into the evening. Bird filed an emergency motion to get custody Nina Capallia, who is still in the hospital, and the bodies of his two sons.

According to the FHP, Capallia-Eason was driving north on Lonnie Crews Road just south of Lina Road when she failed to negotiate the right-hand curve, crossed the southbound lane, left the road and struck a utility pole. The SUV continued north and overturned on Lina Road.

Bird, who lives in Michigan, said he found out about the death of his two sons and his daughter's injuries from another parent whose child was in the accident. 

"(I was) feeling just like my heart was ripped out. I wasn't really thinking at that time. I just kind of broke down," Bird said. 

Bird told News4Jax that Nina is recovering well and is expected to be OK.

"She's stable. She's up and bouncing around, and full of energy," Bird said. 

According to court documents, the couple's custody battle began in 2014. At Tuesday's hearing, Bird argued that his ex-wife is not fit to maintain custody of their daughter and called her a compulsive liar. 

"Two of the kids are deceased because of this accident," Bird said. "A 7-year-old should not even really know what 'drunk' is, let alone be able to imply it with a hand signal."

Bird has made funeral plans for his sons in Michigan and plans to bring Nina back there with him. 

"That's the first step. Then we'll work on saying goodbye to the boys," Bird said. 

Visitation for the boys will be from 4 p.m.-7 p.m. Nov. 7 at the White Cloud Chapel on E. Court Street in White Cloud, Michigan. Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Nov. 8 at the Resonate Church on East 68th Street in Newaygo, Michigan.

A GoFundMe account has been created to help pay for the funeral expenses and Nina's recovery. 

According to the accident report, Capallia-Eason was wearing a seat belt, but it wasn't known if any of the children were in seat belts or child restraints.

No charges have been filed, but the State Attorney’s Office and the FHP said that this case is still under investigation.

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