Four teenage boys sat with waters in front of them at the IHOP in St. Pete Beach. Outside, below the neon "No Vacancy" signs, the sidewalks were crowded with people stumbling and drinking in the spring break spirit. Shortly before 1 a.m., the restaurant was empty except for the boys. Waiter Christina Brodeur readied to take their order, but before she could, a car pulled into the parking lot with a shattered windshield.
"Oh my goodness," Brodeur said. "I think they hit someone."
The boys held their menus in their hands. They peered out the windows to Gulf Boulevard where a crowd gathered on the street.
Then one boy asked, "You think that might be Patrick?"
• • •
One last spring break before all the friends went their separate ways. That's what 17-year-old Patrick McLean and his buddies planned — senior year, the last hurrah. The beach. The girls. A room to themselves on a Friday night at the Postcard Inn.
At St. Petersburg High School earlier that day, during lunch, a group of friends circled their chairs in the classroom around Erin Phelps' desk. Phelps taught advanced health exploration, but she was also the cheerleader coach. Her girls hung out there, so that's where McLean and his friends hung out too.
McLean was the type of kid who said hello to everyone as they passed in the halls, even to the teachers. Polite, funny, always with a smile and brown eyes that seemed to glow, is how people remember him.
Graduation was only a few months away, and the boys in Phelps' class talked about it like it was the first creaks of a prison door swinging open. Originally, McLean hoped to attend Florida State University and study medicine.
"He wanted to be an ER doctor," Patti McLean, his mother, said. "Thinking on your feet, being there to help people, that was him — to be in the middle of it all."
His older brother and best friend, Nick, was already at FSU. But the week before, McLean had received a rejection letter in the mail.
McLean got five A's and a couple B's last semester, his parents said. He was bright, and when the class read Shakespeare's Macbeth, his English literature teacher noticed he could recall almost exactly the scenes and dialogue.
"He could remember details from stories without having notes," his teacher Tracey Keim said. "I always thought that was rather uncanny."
But after transferring from St. Petersburg Catholic High School in 10th grade he spent a year messing around and it dropped his GPA. Didn't matter. He'd get to FSU one day. Already he'd enrolled at Tallahassee Community College, rented an apartment and hoped to transfer to the university shortly.
The lease starts may 15th #tallybound wit my boy @patm727, a friend posted on his Twitter feed.
On Fridays, before letting her students go, Phelps always said the same thing: "No drinking and driving, or smoking and driving, or doing any of it at all."
That day, McLean finished the phrase for her.
And then he and his friends were off — just teenagers about to graduate with the life and world waiting for them to chase it. But first, spring break.
• • •
McLean's friends at the IHOP dropped their menus and ran out the door with the waiter.
McLean had been walking on the west side of Gulf Boulevard to join his friends when he stepped from the curb in the middle of the block.
First, Patsy Harris, 50, hit the teenager with her 2011 Hyundai. A woman ran into the street to help and stop traffic. McLean lay on the pavement. Then a 2008 Volkswagen driven by Sean Daniel, 27, ran over McLean once more. Pinellas County Sheriff's deputies said both drivers "showed signs of impairment."
The accident is still under investigation.
By the time McLean's friends joined the crowd outside, McLean lay motionless and face down. The ambulance arrived.
"They didn't even take the stretcher out," Brodeur said.
• • •
Shortly after, a sheriff's deputy knocked on a door in St. Petersburg. The mother and father rose from their beds.
"I have the worst possible news I could give to a parent," the deputy said.
Patti McLean's world broke.
"After that I don't know what he said. I heard parts. All I knew was that Patrick was gone."