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St. Petersburg teenager killed in boat crash near Albert Whitted Airport

ST. PETERSBURG — Flame by flame, the giant circle became illuminated with candlelight. When it was time to start, about 100 teens had gathered.

Under a full moon behind the Tradewinds Resort on St. Pete Beach, the students shared their memories of Paige Alyssa Davison, a 17-year-old St. Petersburg High School senior killed Friday night in a boat crash.

"I just feel like she's watching us," said Rachel Ryan, a fellow senior and longtime friend.

Dozens spoke, from the ones who met her for the first time a month ago to the ones she had been best friends with since preschool.

Paige was always smiling, they said. She made everyone feel like they were close to her. She was an optimist, they said, and a sweetheart.

"When you think of her you just remember her laugh," said Monica Vu, 17, a senior at St. Petersburg Catholic High School. "It was so goofy but so adorable. Her whole body would shake."

Paige and four other teens were aboard a powerboat that smashed into a seawall near Albert Whitted Airport late Friday night. Two of the teens were rushed to hospitals under trauma alerts, and the other two also were treated for serious injuries.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said "alcohol may have been a factor in the accident," but would not elaborate, as the agency continues investigating.

The agency said David L. West, 18, was operating the boat at the time of the crash. Commission spokesman Gary Morse declined to name the three other passengers, who are under 18. No charges or citations have been issued. A man at West's house said no one from the family wanted to comment.

Authorities said the teens had been on a shark-fishing trip in Tampa Bay.

About 11:30 p.m. Friday, officials said, the boat — a 22-foot Hydra-Sports center-console runabout with a 250 horsepower outboard motor — entered Bayboro Harbor from the north "at a high rate of speed."

It smashed into a seawall on the harbor's north side, near Albert Whitted Airport and across from the Coast Guard station, according to the agency.

After the crash, the damaged boat managed to limp to Harborage Marina at 1500 Second St. S, according to Fire Rescue, where it was met by emergency medical personnel.

One teen was taken to All Children's Hospital; the three others went to Bayfront Medical Center.

News of the crash spread among students over the weekend.

"You never think it's going to happen to anyone you know, until it does," said Heather Mooren, a senior at St. Petersburg High and close friend of Paige's.

"It's really tough. I was told about it this morning by my dad. I just immediately started crying. … She's such a sweet girl."

Paige was on the school's swim team. Swim coach Sandra Heidt said that Paige was friendly with everyone on the team, but that the news of her death was hardest for the older students who knew her best.

"They're really upset about it, very upset about it. … It's very hard for me to talk about," Heidt said.

Early Saturday afternoon, some of Paige's friends and relatives spoke briefly about her at the family's home on 56th Way N.

"She was just an exceptional girl," said her aunt, Beth McWilliam.

Taylor Janhonen, a 17-year-old St. Petersburg High student, said Paige was known for her bubbly personality and always having a smile on her face.

Mooren said she often sat with Paige on the bus as they traveled to swim meets, and studied together when it wasn't time for them to swim.

"Over the years, we've become closer and closer friends," Mooren said.

Paige planned to go to college next year, but wasn't sure what she wanted to study.

On Saturday, many members of the swim team gathered for a previously scheduled picnic at Fort De Soto Park. "Everyone was just really upset and crying and even the swim coach and the dive coach, they were all sad," Mooren said.

Times staff writer Jamal Thalji contributed to this report.

St. Petersburg teenager killed in boat crash near Albert Whitted Airport 10/03/09 [Last modified: Sunday, October 4, 2009 4:34pm]

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