Monday, February 19, 2018
Public safety

Friends mourn charismatic teen killed in crash

LUTZ — More than 100 people gathered along the track and prayed for the friend whom they still couldn't believe would never make them laugh, wrestle competitively or sing country songs again.

Friends and teachers held a vigil at Steinbrenner High School's stadium Sunday night to honor senior Frank Vasquez, who died after a driver slammed into and flipped his parked SUV early Saturday.

Vasquez, 17, died Sunday at St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa, the Florida Highway Patrol said. His girlfriend, Kaylee E. Baer, 16, of Lutz, was last reported in serious condition at St. Joseph's Hospital on Saturday.

The driver, Matthew J. West, 23, who authorities say initially fled the scene, turned himself in at the Pasco County Jail on Saturday. The case is under investigation and no charges have been filed, troopers said.

Friends called Vasquez an outgoing, caring person who had a big heart and was always the center of the party.

"He was the most caring person I ever met, and he always put others before himself," said senior Maresa Gonzalez, who first met Vasquez in sixth grade. "He was always cracking jokes, always making people laugh. He was definitely someone who brought positive energy to every situation."

Vasquez and Gonzalez, 18, volunteered and fed the homeless together every Tuesday through Metropolitan Ministries and their church, Grace Family Church. Gonzalez said Vasquez was striving to better other people's lives.

Vasquez, Baer and Gonzalez joined some other friends at a Keith Urban concert Friday night at the Florida State Fairgrounds. Vasquez loved everything about country music and was always going to concerts, Gonzalez said.

"He's definitely a country boy," Gonzalez said. "I know that before the accident happened, he was having a great time. He went out having a great time."

At the memorial Sunday night, Gonzalez and friends were flooded with emotions, praying for Vasquez's family and Baer's recovery while also sharing memories and stories of Vasquez.

"It's very surreal," Gonzalez said. "I still can't believe he's actually gone. Things are going to be different, but, all in all, our school in general became a lot closer tonight. We put all the drama aside and came together as a big family."

Friends and classmates flooded Twitter on Sunday night with the hashtag #RIPFrank, tweeting pictures of the memorial and sharing stories of their friend.

Vasquez, of Lutz, and Baer had returned from the concert when West hit Vasquez's parked SUV at a dead end on Sunlake Drive, north of County Line Road, about 12:30 a.m. Saturday, crash investigators said.

Caitlin Johnston can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2443.

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