HUDSON — Scott Jaycox burned out Tuesday evening on U.S. 19, riding his dirt bike hard until the pavement bore a black line and smoke blotted the sky.
A crowd of young people cheered. A few ran into the lanes and waved to stop the rush of oncoming traffic. The group had gathered at the nearby corner gas station to honor Dakota Merrell, 16, who was raised around the bend.
Merrell was killed earlier Tuesday when he was hit by a van while he crossed U.S. 19 on his 2006 Honda all-terrain vehicle. The crash occurred about 1:10 p.m. just south of Bolton Avenue.
Merrell, who was not wearing a helmet, died at the scene, the Florida Highway Patrol reported. Troopers said the driver of the Chrysler van that hit him was David Lane Diehl, 66, of Spring Hill. The crash was still under investigation late Tuesday.
Family members and dozens of friends came to the intersection where the crash occurred on Tuesday evening to remember Merrell. Many shared his love of riding bikes and ATVs and had arms and legs mottled by gashes and scars to prove it.
"Saturday morning, we're all going to pile up and ride!" yelled Jaycox, 28.
"We're going to throw some dust up for him," chimed in Cori Martin, 17, of Hudson.
Merrell's mother — Veronica Merrell, 35, of Hudson — wailed at the evening vigil, shaking as the group released a multicolor bouquet of balloons marked up with messages to Merrell.
"He was my youngest," Merrell said. "He was my baby, my everything."
William Merrell, 38, his father, stood next to her, holding his wife, Michelle Merrell, 25, and crying. He remembered his son as a "country boy" who loved the band Florida Georgia Line and smoked red L&M shorts.
A few nights before he died, Merrell's friend, William Johnson, 19, told him to straighten up, he said.
"I told him, 'dude, you gotta go back to school,' " said Johnson. "He knew it. He wanted to."
Merrell would have been a sophomore in high school, said his youth pastor, Jason Milot of Harvest Baptist Church in Hudson.
"He was a good kid, outgoing," said Milot.
After the balloons floated above distant trees, Travis Brigner, 18, revved a jacked-up yellow Jeep down Bolton Avenue. Cheers, again, erupted.
"Dakota always wanted to hear this thing run," said Brigner.