HERNANDO BEACH — Single, childless and nearing the age of 40, James Ramirez seemed content with a life that consisted of lots of recreation and relaxation.
He owned a pool construction business, lived in a charming stilt house overlooking a canal, spent time tinkering with his prized Chevrolet Camaro, collected snakes and goofed around with friends.
But six months ago, Ramirez became a first-time — if somewhat unexpected — father. The boy was named James Jr.
"It changed him completely," said Amanda Summerfield, one of Ramirez's two sisters. "Changed his whole outlook on life. That kid was his everything."
Ramirez's time as a father turned out to be short-lived. He was killed Monday night after his 2003 Ford pickup spun, flipped and overturned into the swampy coastal water of Hernando County, the Florida Highway Patrol said.
Ramirez was driving his truck south on two-lane Shoal Line Boulevard, near Jenkins Creek Park, about 8 p.m. when he swerved out of his lane. He drove back onto the road but his truck spun, struck a street sign and a tree, and flipped into the water near the pavement.
He was pronounced dead at the scene, according to FHP.
Ramirez was only a short distance from his home in the 5000 block of Cedar Brook in Hernando Beach. He wasn't wearing a seat belt, and the FHP was still investigating Tuesday whether alcohol was a factor in the accident.
Hours after the crash, Ramirez's former girlfriend and mother to James Jr., Patty Kelly, was sitting near the site of the accident on the shoulder of Shoal Line Boulevard. Her face was streaked with tears.
On Tuesday, James Jr. turned 6 months old.
"His son was his life," Kelly said. "He took him everywhere."
Kelly said Ramirez would dress the baby in a Tampa Bay Buccaneers outfit and watch football games on Sundays with his son by his side.
Ramirez had also purchased a puppy recently, a German shepherd-labrador mix named Tubby. The dog was also killed in the accident.
"He was a free-loving guy," Kelly said. "He was always trying to get a laugh."
One of three brothers and two sisters, Ramirez was born and raised in New York. The family first lived in the Bronx and later moved to Carmel in upstate New York.
The family moved to Florida in pursuit of sunnier skies and warmer weather about 25 years ago, Summerfield said.
It was in Hernando, Summerfield said, where Ramirez truly felt at home. He ran Bermuda Pools and Spas from his home and was always trying to find time for fishing or boating. He regularly visited with his mother and sisters.
"He never wanted to leave here," Summerfield said. "He was so happy-go-lucky. He was probably the happiest he'd ever been in his life."
Joel Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 754-6120.