LARGO — LeShawn Smith's grandfather was planning to buy his grandson a used sports car. Now, he's scraping up money to pay for Smith's funeral.
Smith, 16, a Largo High basketball player, was one of four teens killed Friday in a horrific Seminole crash.
His family sat down with a reporter for their first interview Tuesday afternoon.
Smith's grandfather, Abdul Raheem Muhammad, 67, is trying to cope with the loss of his only grandchild, who has lived with him for about five years. Collapsing on a floral couch in his living room, he fought tears as he recalled how special Smith was.
In many ways, Smith was a typical teen. He hated to clean his room. He loved to play with his Xbox and hang out with his friends. Sometimes at 2 in the morning, Muhammad would catch Smith texting his buddies. But Muhammad had a sense of comfort whenever Smith left the house. He knew Smith hung out with "good kids."
Smith made friends easily. He had a reputation for being a clown and looking out for others.
"He had the capacity to make everyone feel like they were special," said his great aunt, Deborah Johnson.
And since his death, a steady stream of teens has stopped by Muhammad's Largo condo to offer sympathy.
Dyimond Johnson, 17, was one of a half-dozen kids that visited Tuesday afternoon. He gave the family Smith's No. 15 basketball jersey, the one he will be buried in.
Smith was born April 24, 1992, in Goshen, N.Y, weighing 9 pounds 10 ounces. His mom, Tamisha Jackson, brags that he raised his head that first day. "We knew that he was going to be something special," said Jackson, 33, who lives in Delaware.
Jackson had Smith when she was 16. And she says his birth helped her stay on the right track. "He just always made me want to make better choices," Jackson said.
As a youngster, Smith loved to go to the observation deck of the World Trade Center and view New York City.
Around 2003, Smith came to visit his grandfather. That summer, Muhammad took him to Disney World and to water parks. Not surprisingly, Smith wanted to stay.
He went home to Delaware for a short while but his grades started to slip. So, they decided it might be best for him to come live with his grandfather for a while. It would also give Jackson a chance to go to back to college for a bachelor's degree in human services.
Growing up, Muhammad struggled. He worked in the garment district pushing racks as a teen. The retired New York Department of Corrections substance abuse counselor wanted a better life for his grandson.
"I spoiled him," Muhammad admitted. "Anything he wanted, he got." That included $100 to $150 sneakers virtually every month. And an iPhone for his last birthday.
Smith wanted to work. But Muhammad wouldn't hear of it. "Stay in school. I'll take care of you," he said.
Smith was good at most sports. For a while he played football with the Largo For Youth league. But lately, his passion was basketball. The 6-foot-2, 182-pound young man was known as a hustler on the court. He was the guy that could get you what you needed, said teammate Dyimond Johnson.
And Muhammad was his biggest fan. He knew Smith could be a basketball great.
"I went to every game, practice, everything," Muhammad said. "I'd get mad if they took him out."
Smith loved basketball. But he wasn't sure what he wanted to be. He just knew he wanted to go to college, his mom said.
When Smith wasn't hanging out with his friends, his grandfather would drive him around town. Smith had his learner's permit, but he wasn't eager to get behind the wheel.
"His friends said he didn't like when people drive fast," Jackson said.
Last summer, Muhammad battled prostate cancer. He talked with Smith about how he might leave him one day. Not in his wildest dreams did he think his grandson would die first, Muhammad said, choking back tears.
"He's going to help me walk through the gate."
Lorri Helfand can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 445-4155.