Rhonda Koning panicked every day her son was in Iraq. She worried he would suffer a devastating injury, lose a limb or his life.
But after a year away, Michael Andrew "Andy" Mercer came back in one piece, and life was perfect. He worked in the family business, which he planned to one day take over. He had a wife he adored and in-laws who loved him like a son. He was excited about someday becoming a father himself.
Then on Saturday evening (Sept. 6, 2008), on a motorcycle trip in Tennessee, Mr. Mercer was killed in a crash near Blount County on a twisting stretch of highway known as the Dragon.
He was 26.
Mr. Mercer struck an oncoming motorcycle and was killed instantly, the family said.
Mr. Mercer was with his father-in-law and a friend, who were not injured. He loved to ride, Koning said, and was always very careful.
"It's unbelievable," his mother said. "For him to come home (from Iraq) and come home safe with all his body parts intact — I was so grateful that he came home. Every day was a gift.
"You never can even fathom that something like this would happen. It's just unbelievable."
Mr. Mercer lived in west Pasco from the time he was 10. He graduated from Hudson High in 2000, joined the National Guard and worked for the Sheriff's Office for a while. But then he decided to join his family at the Contractors Institute, a construction school. He traveled and taught classes.
He and his wife, Danielle, lived in Port Richey and would have been married four years this coming January. They were newlyweds when he had to ship out for Iraq. They spent their first anniversary apart.
At his homecoming in the fall of 2006, Danielle worried that he would feel differently about her. But when he saw her in the airport, he wrapped his arms around her and said, "I've missed you, baby."
Danielle Mercer is an advertising saleswoman for the Pasco Times. Mr. Mercer is also survived by his father and stepmother, Mike and Paulette Mercer of Clermont; stepfather Bob Koning; a sister and two stepbrothers. A visitation and funeral will be held this week. Arrangements were still being finalized Monday evening.
"He was really one of those people that ... really touched everybody's life that he came in contact with. He had that magnetism about him," Koning said. "He was destined to do great things. I know this was a mistake."