SPRING HILL — Ray Neumann's dad died when he was just 9 years old. He told his kids how hard it was to grow up without a father, and said he never wanted to leave them in that situation.
"He said that he would always protect me," said Brianna Neumann, 10.
But Ray died earlier this month when the fuel truck he was driving plunged off an interstate overpass and exploded.
One day before Father's Day, the Neumanns held a funeral in Spring Hill to honor a man they called an "awesome dad."
Ray's truck fell off of I-75's southbound overpass on June 4 after he swerved to avoid an oncoming truck, which lost control on the rain-slick road. Severely burned, he survived his injuries for three days.
Ray's son David, 26, called those the worst three days of his life.
It was hard, he said, to talk to his dad, not knowing if he could hear him or recognize him.
"How can you do that when it's your father?" David said.
Raymond A. Neumann, 54, of Brooksville, died on Saturday, June 7, at Tampa General Hospital, leaving behind five children, one stepdaughter and his ex-wife, who remained a close friend.
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The accident occurred the day before Jordan Neumann, 17, was scheduled to graduate from high school.
"He was really, really excited about it," Jordan said.
Graduation streamers and banners still hang on doors and light fixtures at the Neumann home, a reminder how time has stood still for the family.
Ray had moved to Brooksville after the divorce, but he helped clean the Spring Hill house, where Karen and the children live, in the days leading up to Jordan's graduation party, which wasn't odd for the family man.
Ray's son Dakota, 13, remembered how he and his dad played Xbox, racing against each other in a video game about NASCAR, one of Ray's favorite sports.
He was, his kids said, the best father they could have.
Truck drivers that knew Ray told the family the same thing at the wake Friday.
"I got two things," David said of the recollections of those other drivers. "He was either cleaning his truck or talking about his kids. It helped to hear strangers talk like that."
The past two days of events provided brief respite for the Neumanns. Friends and neighbors shared stories, tears and laughs, which provided needed comfort for the grieving family.
But the solace was fleeting.
"Today's no different than it was two days ago," David said. "I mean, I don't feel any better about it."
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Ray's death left a void in the Neumann family, both emotionally and financially.
Ray didn't own his own truck, rather he was an independent contractor based out of Hernando County who had delivered fuel for about 27 years. He was en route to Bradenton at the time of the accident.
Ray worked so that Karen, the kids' mother, could stay home and care for them.
To help the family financially, David created a Web site, www.raymondneumann.com, devoted to his dad. He hopes visitors will donate money so that his younger siblings won't need to sacrifice so much.
"Not everything has to change because of the irresponsible actions of one individual," he said, referring to the driver that lost control of his truck in front of his dad.
David is bitter about the incident, but he didn't want to lash out at the man who caused the accident. He knows any anger he shares about the other driver won't bring his father back.
"I think that everybody's angry," said Karen Neumann. "But he's got to live with what happened the rest of his life."
Instead, the kids will focus on cherishing their dad.
Today, Father's Day, will be hard to handle. The family is coping with a huge loss, but they take comfort in knowing they have fond memories.
And while Ray is no longer alive, his 10-year-old daughter says she knows he will never stop protecting her.
"Now," Brianna said, "he's my guardian angel."
Michael Sanserino can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1430.