THONOTOSASSA — James David Birk's extended family camps at Hillsborough River State Park each Thanksgiving. Aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins arrive in their recreational vehicles, bringing plenty of food. This year, about 50 of them gathered for the event.
But the family reunion was cut short Thursday night when Birk's car crashed into some trees and flipped on U.S. 301 just outside the park.
Birk, 21, was taken to Florida Hospital Zephyrhills, where he died, the Florida Highway Patrol reported.
Birk's grandmother, June Cannon, said her grandson was on his way back from watching a football game at a friend's house. He was alone in the car and wasn't wearing a seat belt, the Highway Patrol reported.
Birk was a University of Central Florida student from Land O'Lakes.
"Everyone in the family loved him," Cannon said. "He was someone everyone wanted to be around."
Birk "was the epitome of a family man," his cousin, Stacie Garcia, wrote in an e-mail.
"He was the type to come home from Orlando and instead of going out with his friends, he would sit at his house with his parents and sister and brother. … He would drop anything to be here if one of us needed him."
This is what the Highway Patrol says happened:
Just after 10 p.m., Birk lost control of the 2007 Dodge Charger he was driving. The car went into the grassy shoulder, struck several trees and flipped.
The Highway Patrol was still investigating if alcohol was a factor. The car had about $25,000 in damage.