LARGO — Late on Christmas night, the four friends were having a good time: drinking, smoking, making obscene gestures at other drivers as they sped by, police said.
But when the driver lost control of his car, the fun came to a screeching halt. Two men died and three were hospitalized after Diego Cavalieri, 23, of Seminole veered in front of an oncoming vehicle, investigators said.
Cavalieri was southbound on Indian Rocks Road just before 11 p.m. Sunday. The three passengers in his 2006 Ford Fusion were best friends who had known one another from childhood.
Police say Cavalieri lost control at a sharp right turn and overcorrected, running off the road in front of Largo Medical Center. He drove directly in front of a northbound Buick driven by David Maynard, 48. It hit the Fusion's passenger side, causing "traumatic injuries" to all four occupants, police said.
Thomas Eugene Williams, 25, in the Fusion's front passenger seat, was killed on impact. Backseat passengers Sean Edward Wilson, 22, and Timothy Talbot, 23, were airlifted to Bayfront Medical Center. Wilson died there, while Talbot remains on life support.
Both drivers were injured but were expected to survive.
According to Largo police, numerous witnesses said Cavalieri was driving recklessly.
"Had that car not hit them, they would have hit a brick wall and a tree by the retention pond," traffic investigator Ryan Dulski said. "Either way, that car was destined for a crash."
The collision took place just feet away from a state-sanctioned memorial marker on the side of the road that reminds motorists to drive safely.
"That was a drunk-driving crash too," Dulski said. "It was very similar to this one. It's very sad."
Police believe Cavalieri, who has no criminal record in Florida, was under the influence of alcohol at the time. According to state records, he had just completed a defensive driving course due Wednesday after being cited for careless driving.
Evidence of drug use was discovered in the car after the crash, Dulski said. The men told officers they were on their way to a friend's house, but couldn't provide an address.
In Bayfront's intensive care unit Monday, Talbot was heavily sedated and breathing with the help of machines, relatives said. He's scheduled to undergo surgery Wednesday to repair his broken hip and pelvis.
Talbot, who has known Wilson and Williams, both of Clearwater, since childhood, doesn't yet know that his best friends are gone, said his sister, Ashley Talbot of Largo.
All three passengers in the Ford have histories of arrests in Pinellas County. Wilson recently had been arrested on charges of selling crack and possessing marijuana, according to jail records.
Wilson's mother, Lori Mercer of Clearwater, last saw her son at Christmas dinner, just hours before his death.
His relatives hugged and cried Monday as they recalled how Wilson, the fourth of eight children, loved showering his nieces and nephew with candy, telling jokes and protecting his family, especially his four sisters. After his latest jail stint, he had vowed to turn his life around and hoped to become a nurse's aide like his mother and father.
"He made some mistakes, but that wasn't where his heart was," Mercer said. "At 22, he had a bright future ahead of him, regardless of the troubles he had."
Thomas Williams was a "cornball" with a "good heart" who "could pretty much make anybody laugh," said Crystal Williams, one of his two older sisters. She said the metal factory worker is also survived by his parents and a 20-month-old daughter.
The three families didn't know how long the three friends knew Cavalieri, though Ashley Talbot said she first met him about two months ago.
"We're not holding any malice against that man," Mercer said. "My son respected and trusted him as a friend and (got into the car) because he felt everything would be okay. His family is going to suffer, too."
An investigation into the crash continues.
Times news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Keyonna Summers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.