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Fatal car crash that killed teens shakes Seminole, Largo high schools

SEMINOLE — Paramedics who rushed to the crash knew the situation was going to be bad.

"I could tell it in the dispatcher's voice," said Rick Koda, the Seminole's district chief who was in charge Friday.

When firefighters and paramedics arrived, the scene was every bit as bad as they had feared. The Lexus was consumed by flames and four teenagers had been ejected.

"In my 22 years as a paramedic, it was definitely the worst scene I'd ever been on," Koda recalled today, his first day back on the job since the crash.

The situation worsened when the families and about 200 kids showed up. Six of them couldn't handle it and needed medic attention themselves. One was sent to the hospital with cardiac problems. Others collapsed at the scene.

"I've never seen that were someone would just completely go unresponsive due to the psychogenic shock kicking in," he said.

Three Seminole High students were killed in the crash — Nathan Richardson, Joseph Ruzecki and Keith MacCollom — along with Largo High student LeShawn Smith. Seminole High student Corey Lepore survived.

• • •

The mood at the two high schools was somber this morning.

Normally, this is the time of year when thoughts begin to turn to the prom and the end of school. Instead, there was just silence.

"It's a total mood killer and it sucks," said Seminole sophomore Rob Backus, who heard the crash Friday night and went to the scene soon after it happened. "It's hard to comprehend what happened to those kids."

Seminole High plans a campus vigil at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday on the school football field. Largo High is working out details of its campus memorial, which is planned for around noon Wednesday. A celebration of Smith's life is also scheduled for 7 tonight at the Greater Ridgecrest YMCA, 1801 119th St. N, Largo.

Crisis counselors will be at the school all week to help students through their grief.

Seminole students arrived at school before dawn for the 7:05 a.m. start. There was little of the usual early-morning laughter or horseplay. Some students stopped to hug each other. Reporters were kept off campus. TV trucks gathered at 86th Avenue and 131st Street, but most students tried to avoid the cameras as they made their way to school.

Today "is going to be quiet, it's going to be sad,'' said freshman Alec Musser of Seminole.

Added sophomore Andy Schaaf: "It's going to be sad for sure and that's pretty much what everyone's going to be talking about.''

At Largo High, students gathered in the courtyard, many sharing stories about Smith. About half of the students wore black or white shirts in memory of him.

"It sucks so freaking bad to see everyone's best friend gone," said junior Samantha Wood, 18, who had known Smith since middle school.

Wood wore a white T-shirt she made that said "RIP Le-Shawn," with his basketball jersey number 15 on it. It also had his nickname, L-Sicko, but she wasn't sure where that nickname came from.

"I know we only had one person die," Wood said. "But it made an impact on my life."

Jonathan Sheppa, a junior, was in a couple of classes with Smith. "Whether you're close friends or everyday said 'Hi,' it's still not easy knowing one of the friends in your class just died," said Sheppa, 17.

About an hour after school began, Smith's FCAT reading teacher, Sharon Feldhake, tried to comfort 20 of his classmates.

Most were sitting at their desks sobbing. Feldhake handed out tissues. A school social worker commended the boys for being strong enough to show their emotions.

"He was very special in my heart," Feldhake said.

She handed out pins she made early that morning with a picture of a basketball on them.

"LeShawn loved basketball and would do whatever he could to keep his grades where they needed to be so he could play basketball," Feldhake told her students.

The desk where Smith used to sit was empty. The gregarious young man, with a reputation for being a class clown, liked to sit alone so he could focus, she said.

"Miss, I know I work better by myself," Feldhake remembered him saying.

Feldhake placed a picture of Smith on his desk. Just before heading to the cafeteria to sign memorial posters for Smith's family, four teens huddled around Smith's desk, choking back tears.

"These kids are family," Feldhake said.

Fatal car crash that killed teens shakes Seminole, Largo high schools 04/13/09 [Last modified: Friday, April 17, 2009 1:55pm]
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