NEW PORT RICHEY — Every year, Scott Schmitz teaches driver's education at Mitchell High School, and every year, he tells students the same thing: Do something you shouldn't, and bad things can happen to good people.
This week, Schmitz, also the school's football coach, saw bad things happen to one of his former players in an early-morning car wreck. For reasons that are still being investigated by authorities, a onetime star athlete became an inmate and five children became motherless.
Two families changed in an instant.
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Just after 3 a.m. Monday, a pair of deputies clocked a green Mazda Miata zipping north on U.S. 19 at 111 mph. They turned around to give chase, just in time to watch the roadster barrel into the back of a Kia, driven by Courtney Ann Kreckel, 38.
The force of the impact sent the Kia hurtling over a median and into the southbound lane where it burst into flames.
Both cars lay crushed in the road, a scribble of tire marks all around them. By the time troopers arrived on scene, the inside of the Kia was all ash. A melted purse sat on the driver's seat. Kreckel was taken to Trinity Medical Center, a trooper would write. But it was too late. She'd been burned alive in her car.
Troopers walked over to Ryan Brosnan, who stood near an ambulance. They found a baggy of marijuana in his car, the report states, his pants were soaked with urine and he smelled like alcohol. They asked how much he'd been drinking.
"I was at work so I had like one or two beers," he said, according to the report. "We get a shift drink or two at the end, like when we are done we get like, one beer."
Brosnan, 21, started working at Rusty Bellies on Dodecanese Boulevard in Tarpon Springs three or four months ago. The restaurant maintains that he had no alcohol on the job that night, according to the manager's lawyer, Michael Kouskoutis. Company policy says that's not allowed. Koskoutis also pointed out that Brosnan punched out at 7:30 Sunday night, nearly eight hours before the crash.
It's hard for the coach to understand how a student who was a star wrestler and football player could reach this point.
Schmitz knew Brosnan when he played varsity in 2008 and 2009. He played as an offensive lineman and was a key tackle on Mitchell's defensive line.
The coach lost contact with Brosnan after high school and hasn't seen him in years, but he remembers who Brosnan once was.
"He was very much a team leader," Schmitz said. "A very hardworking kid, a very respectful kid."
The coaching staff knew, when Brosnan became a football captain during his senior year, that he could be trusted to set a good example for his teammates.
He graduated in 2010 and was recruited to play at Norwich University in New Jersey. Though he was at the school for two years, he saw no time on the field.
He transferred to Methodist University in North Carolina. He never saw the field there, either. At some point, he moved back to Pasco County and started tending bar.
Now, Schmitz wonders if his life will be defined by this act.
"When you do something crazy, and you do something stupid, you have a chance to affect a lot of people," Schmitz said. "And that's what happened."
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Recounting what she could of her sister's life, Tara Kreckel sobbed so hard she could hardly speak.
They had come from Pennsylvania. Courtney moved down to Pahokee, in southeast Florida, with her mother when she was 18.
Courtney had five children: two sets of twins, now 19 and 13, and a boy who is 15.
She moved over to Port Richey with some friends a couple years ago and worked as a housekeeper.
Tara last saw her sister in 2004, but the two called each other five times a week. They talked about their children and Courtney's dog, Diesel. The last call was on Sunday night. Courtney talked about a new show, The Walking Dead, that she'd been watching.
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Brosnan remained in the Land O'Lakes jail Tuesday afternoon with no bail. He is charged with possessing less than 20 grams of marijuana, but a Florida Highway Patrol investigation is pending and more charges could be filed depending on the outcome. He declined an interview request from the Tampa Bay Times. Someone answered a phone for a number listed at his address and declined to comment.
Brosnan's father, Brian Brosnan, is a Pasco sheriff's deputy. In March, the elder Brosnan was arrested on a charge of driving under the influence in Pinellas County. Brosnan was off duty and driving his personal vehicle, a Sheriff's Office internal affairs report states. His Breathalyzer test registered at 0.217, more than twice the legal limit at which Florida law presumes a driver impaired.
Brosnan was demoted from sergeant to deputy.
Schmitz's sympathies are with Brosnan and his family, but he said he it's more painful to think of the victim and her family. He has two children and two granddaughters, and he can't imagine what Kreckel's family is experiencing.
"I know the kid," he said, "and I know that being a good kid doesn't excuse what you do."
Times researchers Natalie Watson and Caryn Baird contributed to this story. Contact Alex Orlando at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6247.