ST. PETERSBURG — Carl Lee Martin was remembered on Christmas Eve by friends and neighbors as a good athlete and someone who made others smile.
Martin, 15, died Thursday night when Demontray Lovett, 18, of St. Petersburg accidently fired a .40-caliber handgun from the back seat of a stolen minivan, St. Petersburg police said. The bullet went through the right front passenger seat and hit Martin in the torso. Lovett and Martin were part of a group of five people in the van headed for St. Pete Beach, investigators said.
Authorities found Martin's body late Thursday inside the van parked in an alley behind 626 23rd Ave. S after being called about the vehicle.
Lovett was arrested Friday night and remained jailed Saturday on aggravated manslaughter and weapons charges.
On Saturday, many neighbors at the Citrus Grove Apartments on 15th Street S, where Martin lived with his mother and siblings, were solemn.
"He was a good person. He made everybody laugh," said neighbor Melanee Rogers.
Martin, she said, was very close to his family and often played football with his younger siblings.
Martin's Facebook page was filled Saturday with messages from friends who said they will miss him and that life can change so fast. He attended Pinellas Secondary School.
"He was one of the older guys I would see telling younger ones to do what's right," said James Smith, a pastor at Campbell Park Community Church who led a basketball outreach program that included Martin.
About 20 kids, ages 10 to 15, met twice a week to play basketball and talk about life and God. Though he was known to be an avid football player and was on a team when he was younger, Martin also excelled at basketball.
"There wasn't too much that he couldn't do. He definitely was a quick learner," Smith said. "This is something tough to go through anyway, but this time of year it's very hard."
In May, Martin was charged with robbery but the case was later dropped, state records show.
Lovett came to the basketball outreach at Campbell Park Recreation Center a few times but not as regularly as Martin, Smith said.
Less than 2 miles from Martin's home, residents at the Courtyard Apartments on 15th Avenue S said they were surprised that a neighbor was accused of accidentally shooting Martin.
"It was a mistake. His friend lost his life. It wasn't like an 'I hate you thing,' " Herman Lassiter said.
Lovett, who came to the complex a few months ago, lives alone, didn't cause any trouble, and had frequent visits from his mother, Lassiter said.
"It kind of touched me because it makes me think about my 13-year-old and how devastated I would be if anything like this happened to him," said Lavern Samuel. "A gun will get you into trouble."
Lovett has six prior arrests as a juvenile, including trespassing, resisting arrest, vehicle theft, prowling, attempted burglary and battery, state records show. Most of those charges were dropped or dismissed, and adjudication was withheld on the burglary and battery charges.
Times researcher Tim Rozgonyi contributed to this report. Katherine Snow Smith can be reached at (727) 409-3642 or email@example.com.