Suddenly Katie Hayes found herself — inexplicably, inconceivably — a 19-year-old widow with two young children, no job, no money and no idea what to do.
Over the weekend, the community rallied for her family.
"I'm so thankful that so many people were there," Hayes said Monday. "But on the other hand, I don't want any of this. I just want Vaughn."
Vaughn was her 21-year-old husband, who died July 3. A week earlier, an 800-pound semitrailer truck transmission fell on his head 23 minutes into his shift at his second job at Dave's Truck Shop in Port Richey.
To honor his memory and help his family, about 1,500 people showed up Saturday at Superior Style & Sound, an auto parts and accessories store near Hudson. The event featured a Jeep show, carwashes, contests, raffles and a surge of generosity.
At the end of the day, organizers counted $15,000.
"It turned out awesome," said Jim Johnson, the shop owner and Katie's friend. "The outpouring from the community was just unbelievable."
His shop had put on a few benefits before and planned this one to help her. They hoped Saturday's event would be bigger than the one they held in February, which raised $1,000 for a local man down on his luck.
But even the organizers were surprised by the outpouring of support for Katie.
"It's been a shot in the arm for my faith in humanity," said Richard Augat, Superior's marketing manager.
Vaughn Hayes' other former employer, the Tampa road construction firm Cone & Graham, had its own collection that contributed to the $15,000. The company declined to comment.
Because Hayes was an independent contractor working some 20 hours a week at Dave's Truck Shop, there was no worker's compensation policy for him. The Tampa office of the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating the accident.
Hayes did have a $10,000 life insurance policy, which was signed before he and Katie were married and benefits his brother, Jeremy. He said he hasn't finished the paperwork to receive the money yet, but plans to use it to pay for the funeral expenses.
The family is still working out the payment and arrangements for Hayes' remains. Then there's the matter of his medical bills: surgery and a week in intensive care. Katie doesn't know how much those will be yet, but she said the paramedics alone cost $543.
Since Hayes' story appeared last week in the St. Petersburg Times, 15 people called asking for more information about Saturday's benefit or how they could send money to Katie.
Katie and her children, 2-year-old Courtney and a 4-month-old son also named Vaughn, moved out of their mobile home in Moon Lake, which she could no longer afford, and in with a friend's parents. She is applying for Social Security, she said, and arranging to put all the donations in a savings account or trust fund.
The money can help with the expenses, but the family is still struggling with the grief.
"I've lost brothers, I've lost a father — nobody knows the pain of losing a child," said Vaughn Hayes' mother, Doris. "I just want to know that my grandchildren are taken care of."
Isaac Arnsdorf can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6232.