NEW PORT RICHEY — He couldn't find the other one. He was frantic. Dustin Roberts knew there were two guys in this car. He had seen them minutes before at a Hess gas station. Roberts and his girlfriend fueled up at the same time as the men, who looked like they were about Roberts' age, which is 20.
Both cars turned south on Rowan Road about 1 p.m. Friday. The guys' black Mercury Marauder passed Roberts' truck and — according to Roberts — began racing a silver Infiniti G35, both cars gunning more than 100 mph.
"They're going to crash," Roberts said to his girlfriend.
Seconds later, not even half a mile from the gas station, the Marauder fishtailed and plowed through a metal guardrail, hurtling down an embankment into a small green valley. The car had so much speed that it went up the other side and sailed into the air — clearing two 15-foot tall palm trees — and landed at the entrance of Cypress Trail Apartments, rolling, leaving a debris field about 200 feet long. A city bus stop sign from Rowan Road plunged like a javelin into the Cypress Trail clubhouse roof.
Roberts and his girlfriend stopped and ran. One of the young men was on the road near the car. Roberts felt a pulse. Others who heard the crash were coming to help and calling 911.
Roberts saw a green pond surrounding the back of the clubhouse. Worst case scenario, he thought. But he ran over.
It turned out that the other young man had ejected from the car, hit the building and landed in the pond. Roberts saw only a small patch of a black T-shirt floating on the water. He raced in, grabbed the man, who was facedown, and turned him around. He was breathing. Roberts cradled him. A woman came over and helped to stabilize the man's neck.
"You were in an accident," Roberts said to him. "I'm here. Help is coming. You'll be okay."
The three of them waited for paramedics to arrive. He was just at the gas station. A few minutes ago, both of them were fine, Roberts kept thinking. He talked softly to the stranger because, if it were him, he would want someone do to the same thing — to hold him and comfort him and tell him everything was going to be okay, even if it wasn't.
Roberts said the silver Infiniti didn't stop after the accident. The Florida Highway Patrol said the driver of the Marauder was 19-year-old Alex Vachon of New Port Richey. He died at Community Hospital. Authorities haven't released the name of Vachon's passenger, who is listed in critical condition.
"It's unbelievable," said Joan Mallard, who said her daughter graduated with Vachon from River Ridge High School this year. "He was a wonderful kid."
Joe Haley is the Cypress Trail maintenance supervisor. He was in the clubhouse when the accident happened. He stayed with the other young man, the one in the road, until help arrived. He told him to hold on.
"There was nothing I could do for him," Haley said, as he swept up pieces of the car and its contents: a chart and receipt from Zamboni's Speed and Custom Inc., measuring the car's 385 horsepower and 391 max torque; a picture of a Mercury Marauder; brand new terry cloth polishing towels; a copy of Muscle Mustangs and Fast Fords; a sneaker. The crash sheared off both front wheels. A section of guardrail punched through the passenger's side door. The hood was gone, showing a supercharger and nitrous system in the engine.
Authorities haven't said if the driver was the man on the road or in the pond. Roberts doesn't know if the man he tried to save is still alive.
He hopes so.
Reach Erin Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6229.