CLEARWATER — Regulars at Countryside Lanes knew Christopher Holly by his contagious laugh, his love of Bud Light and his bizarre bowling throw.
"You could recognize Holly by the way he bowled," said close friend Joe May. "It was completely unique. He'd stick his arm out to the side instead of behind him — which looked kind of painful — and throw the ball. He was amazing."
Bowling was Holly's passion. More than 100 of his friends — most of whom he met through bowling leagues or tournaments — gathered Thursday night on the shoulder of U.S. 19 for a candlelight vigil to mourn his loss. The day would have been Holly's 29th birthday.
Holly died in an auto accident during the early hours of Oct. 6. He was making a legal U-turn at U.S. 19 and Republic Drive when another driver ran a red light and slammed into his Nissan Xterra, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
The other driver, 33-year-old Adrian David Rodriguez of Clearwater, sustained minor injuries. Holly's friends suspect the driver who hit him was intoxicated. However, the Highway Patrol is still investigating the wreck and is awaiting toxicology results.
Now dozens of Holly's former teammates plan to donate large chunks of their bowling earnings to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the most fitting method to help a good cause.
Holly competed every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday night for three different teams. After matches, Holly and May would sit at the bowling alley's Lucky Sports Bar, order a couple of Bud Lights and talk about relationships, family, fishing.
"We'd go out after that and always have a great time," said May, who met Holly about a year ago and grew close in comparing scores. "He was an all-around great guy."
Tim Erickson, who bowled with Holly on Monday nights, laughed recalling a recent party with his teammate taking over the dance floor.
"We were making a fool of ourselves to dub step, just being silly," said Erickson, who grew close with Holly after eight years of tournaments together. "Chris was larger than life, the life of the party. If you were ever in a bad mood, he'd pull you out of it."
Holly graduated from Clearwater High School, worked as a parts service manager at Auto Exchange in Clearwater, loved the sea breeze on a boat, and made Rays games a Sunday tradition.
Andy Dunphy, a bowling teammate and close friend, said they invented a goofy secret language, puzzling nearby baseball fans at Tropicana Field.
"Nobody could understand except for me and him," said Dunphy, who often joined him in the stands. "But I don't think you could print our words in the paper."
Holly's mother Terri Holly, who also lives in Clearwater, was surprised and touched by the droves of young men who arrived at the vigil Thursday, laughing over shared memories and wiping away tears.
She thought of her perfect baby, who turned into her perfect honors student, who turned into her perfect companion — always randomly stopping by to chat, watch sports and eat Beenie Weenies.
She keeps his five champion rings, prizes he earned for bowling 300s, in her jewelry box. She plans to fix them onto his urn.
Danielle Paquette can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4224.