TAMPA — Fifty friends of Tessa Byers gathered Monday night to honor her memory and tell her parents what made her an instant part of the University of Tampa family, a school official said.
Byers, 19, a student from Carmel, Ind., was traveling through Hernando County on Saturday night on the way to New Orleans for Mardi Gras when her friend's car left Interstate 75, overturned and ejected her, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
She died at the scene of the crash. She had been the only person in the car who was not wearing a seat belt, the accident report said.
The crash, which the Highway Patrol said did not involve alcohol, is still under investigation.
The other five students in the car — including the driver, 19-year-old Russell Colleran — were taken to hospitals with injuries that weren't life-threatening and have since been released, said Stephanie Russell Holz, associate dean of students at UT.
Holz said Byers' parents came to Tampa and hosted a dinner for her friends and heard their memories of the freshman criminology student.
"It's a great loss for us. We're just hoping that students take something from this … that they aspire to be the type of person Tessa was," Holz said.
After coming to Tampa in the fall, Byers got involved with the school's theater department and became the guitarist for a Christian meeting group, Campus Crusade for Christ, Holz said.
Friends told Holz that Byers always made everyone laugh and had a quick wit.
A memorial is being planned in Byers' honor. But because the university is on spring break, a date has not been set.