TAMPA — After Plant High band director Rob Schoos visited his former student at the hospital, he drove to the scene of the crash.
Schoos couldn't imagine what would have caused 19-year-old Michael Agana's car to careen down a narrow South Tampa street, over speed bumps and across Bayshore Boulevard on Friday, smashing through the balustrade before sinking about 25 feet from shore into the bay.
Agana was in critical condition and couldn't talk, so Schoos searched the road for clues.
He found none.
No skid marks. No signs that Agana had swerved or slowed.
"I don't know if we'll ever know, unless they're able to find out if something mechanical happened," he said.
Agana, a University of South Florida student, spent Friday with a friend at Busch Gardens and was on his way back to his family's Bayshore Beautiful home, Schoos said.
He wasn't the type to binge drink or do drugs, several friends said. They can't fathom an attempted suicide. And he didn't have a history of seizures in high school, Schoos said. Licensed in 2007, Agana had a spotless driving history, records show.
Witnesses to Friday's crash told detectives the car was traveling fast, but no one has been able to talk to Agana. His 2001 Camry didn't have an event data recorder, police say.
Investigators plan to inspect the Camry for mechanical issues, Tampa police spokeswoman Janelle McGregor said.
Recent models of the Toyota Camry were at the center of a national investigation after reports of about three dozen fatal cases of "rapid acceleration." Many models were recalled — but not the 2001 version.
Federal investigators later ruled out electric issues, blaming many of the crashes on problems with floor mats and sticking pedals.
As the police continue to investigate, Agana's friends gathered Monday at Tampa General Hospital and at the crash site.
They spoke of a man who excelled at percussion in high school and pursued engineering in college. Last year, he was initiated into USF's Phi Delta Theta Fraternity, where one fraternity brother remembers how Agana came off as shy at first.
"He's very calm and collected. He'd just observe his surroundings, but we could talk for hours about life, music, our dreams," said Taylor Ashby.
On Monday evening, around 80 friends, parents, former high school bandmates and fraternity brothers gathered at the Bayshore Boulevard crash scene for a vigil and prayer. They spoke about a young man with a quick smile and a quiet confidence. They stared out into the water. They sang Amazing Grace as joggers and bikers quietly looped around them. Some wept.
Travis Brewer, 19, who played on the Plant High drum line with Agana, said he last spoke with his friend a week ago when several former band members got together at Village Inn for dinner. Agana was in good spirits, he said. He didn't want to speculate about what happened Friday.
"Answers can come later," Brewer said. "We just want to see him get better."
Ashby said seeing the crash scene — the broken balustrade, the temporary metal fencing, the yellow police line — was a difficult reminder of human fragility.
"This spot is going to be a reminder that nobody is invincible, that life is precious," he said.
Parents of Agana's high school friends talked about the community they'd built over the years, ferrying children from football games and band practices.
"It could have been any one of ours," said parent Kim Foss, who son played in the band with Agana. "And they are all ours."
Earlier on Monday, Schoos talked to each of his classes about what had happened. Many of the students knew Agana, the snare player who graduated a year ago from Plant. Many had already heard the news.
"He's an outstanding kid, one of those rare kids who literally shows up every single day, smile on his face, no complaints, and gets the job done," Schoos said. "He's as good as it gets."
• • •
Officer Nick Wilson got a call from his supervisor just after 8 p.m. Friday.
A vehicle was in the water. Get to the scene, the sergeant told Wilson, one of the department's 14 divers.
By coincidence, Wilson was just down the road, working extra duty at Tampa General Hospital. Within 10 minutes, he was able get to the scene, drop his gun belt and put on his mask and fins.
He grabbed a small, porcelain-tipped device that breaks glass, then dove into the water.
Wilson credits several witnesses and an officer who were already in the water with helping point him to the submerged car.
"Without them, I would have had to search for the vehicle, which would have really delayed the recovery efforts," Wilson said.
He dove about 8 feet down, shattered a window and pulled Agana to shore. The young man was unconscious.
Divers in rescue mode don't worry themselves with science, Wilson's supervisor, Sgt. Robert Blasioli said. Their only objective: Get the driver out quickly.
In cold water, small children have survived after being submerged for 20 to 30 minutes. But it's harder to cool an adult's body, said Florida Hospital neurologist Dr. Nancy Rodgers-Neame. The water in Tampa Bay was about 83 degrees Friday evening.
Typically, Rodgers-Neame said, neurologists see three outcomes with near-drownings: The victim's brain can die within the first several days, the victim can have severe brain damage, or the victim can make a complete — or near complete — recovery.
"There are very few people who have minimal brain damage — between severe damage and a complete recovery," she said.
That's because there's a tipping point, she said. Usually after more than 10 minutes under water, brain cells start to quickly die.
Speaking on his way to visit Agana at the hospital, the young man's friend, Ashby, said he didn't know about the details of Agana's medical condition.
"The only thing we can do is hope and pray," he said. "It's in the hands of the doctors now."
Times news researcher John Martin and staff writer Jodie Tillman contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3433.