LAND O'LAKES — On Thursday afternoon at 1:54 p.m., Maria Cecilia Ramsey told everyone on her Facebook page that she was "going to Orlando!" She and her friend, Brittany Nation, were set to leave at 2 p.m. from their homes in Central Pasco. Nation, who turned 22 on Oct. 9, worked at Sally's Beauty Supply off State Road 54 and lived with her parents in Land O'Lakes.
Ramsey worked two jobs waitressing at a steak house and an Italian eatery. She lived less than 3 miles away from Nation. Both girls were at stages in their lives where they were evaluating what they wanted. Nation was set to start classes at a hair styling academy in the winter. Ramsey was trying to get into the University of South Florida and wanted a career in public relations.
Ramsey was turning 22 on Nov. 13, so this Orlando trip was an early birthday present. They were going to see a concert by the All-American Rejects that night, but wanted to leave early to hit the high-end outlet stores. Nation bought two jackets. She called her sister, Jena, 19, giddy with the cool finds.
The young women went to the concert and then drove the 100 miles back home. Nation had to work Friday morning. Ramsey was driving her 2005 Toyota sedan. It was after 2 a.m. when they got to a stretch of Interstate 75 near the 277 milepost, north of the Pasco County rest area.
There, Michael Kelton, a 38-year-old driver of a semitrailer truck from Mississippi, had pulled off to the shoulder because he was too tired to drive.
For some reason — and authorities have not yet said — Ramsey's car drove into the center median and then over-corrected back across the lanes of traffic and onto the shoulder, where they crashed into the parked semi. Kelton was unhurt.
Both Nation and Ramsey died at the scene. The Florida Highway Patrol is investigating the accident and has not said if the women were wearing seat belts or if alcohol was involved.
At Nation's house, a dozen people stood in the front yard, smoking and crying and dazed. Nation was so creative, always drawing or changing her hair.
"She's had at least three mohawks," Jena, said.
Most recently her hair was dark, and she had stunning green eyes. A smart, punk look; trendy glasses, piercings on her nose and lip. She loved music and had a tattoo of Frank Sinatra on her arm. But she still had love for the band she loved as a kid — the Hanson brother trio — and had a tattoo of their names on her back.
She had another tattoo, a heart, on her back calf, in honor of her friend, Jeff Lyons, who was 19 when he killed himself last spring.
She became close with his father, also named Jeff Lyons, and they began dating about a month ago. She sent him a text message a few minutes before the accident, saying she was on her way home and that she loved him.
At the house, Lyons sobbed. He had just felt hope again, after being devastated by the loss of his son.
Again, authorities have not said if alcohol or fatigue played a role in the accident. But just in case, Nation's father, Richard Nation, bellowed at the young adults weeping on his front lawn.
"If you need a ride, you call me," he said, tears streaming down his cheeks. "It doesn't matter. I will get you. I will bring you home."
At that same time — a few turns down Collier Parkway — people also milled outside of Ramsey's house, though more subdued. Her father, David Ramsey, stood on his driveway in a golf shirt tucked into khaki pants, his white hair parted. He married his second wife, Ruth, when her daughter was only 2 1/2 years old.
He adopted Maria Cecilia, who was born in Bolivia. "She was the most fantastic child you would ever meet," he said. As he spoke, his wife was inside. She was diagnosed with breast cancer last spring and just finished her radiation treatments. She is not doing well. "She lost her only child," he said.
His chin trembled. Ever since she was little, he envisioned, one day, walking her down the aisle.
"That was my dream," he said, and choked to fight back tears.
Although Nation and Ramsey attended Land O'Lakes High School, their families did not know each other. Both families said they will be having their services through Loyless Funeral Home, though nothing has been planned yet.
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story. Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4609.