Devin Chester had an ease with the extreme that his family found stunning.
At 3 years old, his father said, the little boy could throttle up and zoom off on a dirt bike. At 5, he could drop into a half-pipe on a bicycle or skateboard. At 13, he went to BMX camp, landed a backflip after only a few days of training and was invited back for an advanced session.
Devin could reel in a 100-pound tarpon and won an award for young fishermen. Just last year, Michael Chester recalled, his son went to Daytona and raced the best young motocross riders in the nation on a standard bike. No adjustments, no add-ons, just Devin.
"He ran fifth against the best riders in the nation on a stock bike," Michael Chester said in a phone interview, sounding like he was fighting tears.
Devin Chester died Friday morning after he crashed his dirt bike while practicing at Sunshine Motocross in Pinellas Park late Thursday. He was 17.
Grief spread on Twitter among Devin's friends and classmates. They used the hashtag #ripdev, writing of broken hearts and the perils of taking youth for granted.
"His friends are so broken," said Michael Chester, 51, of Largo. "They're coming home from college. They're dealing with grief counseling. They're not well."
Pinellas County School District spokeswoman Melanie Marquez Parra said Devin was a junior at Osceola High School. The death cast a pall over the school on Friday. Grief counselors were busy. Students wept in halls that on any other day would be echoing with chatter and laughter.
"There was no sound at all," said senior Melissa Ternes, 17.
The football team planned a tribute during its game Friday night. The tears welling in Luis Taveras' eyes gleamed under the stadium lights. It was perfect football weather, but Devin was missing from the stands at Osceola as the kickoff against Palm Harbor University High School neared. He was supposed to be sitting next to Taveras, cracking corny jokes and cheering on the Warriors like he always did. Instead, Taveras wore a black shirt with four words stenciled in white paint: Do It For Devin.
"He was the most happy-spirited, well respected boy I've ever met," said Taveras, 17, a junior who grew up with Devin. "He always found a way to make you smile."
Friends said Devin loved his gold Chevy pickup with the souped-up stereo usually blaring hip-hop or country music. He was an honors student who loved math and talked about going to Florida State University. He loved to fish, but motocross was his passion.
Michael Chester said his son was on the honor roll and studied in advanced classes but always took time to hang out and have fun.
"I think his favorite subject was friends," Chester said. "He was a compassionate and loving person."
Thursday night shortly after 7 p.m., emergency responders raced to Sunshine Motocross for a call of a 17-year-old involved in a crash, Pinellas Park fire spokesman Gary Berkheimer said. When they got there, the boy was badly hurt. He stopped breathing as they took him to the hospital.
Devin never rode a dirt bike alone, his father said. Michael, Devin's mother, Tammy, and his brother, Jesse, used to all ride together — at Bartow, Dade City, Sunshine and other tracks around the state.
So Michael was there Thursday night when Devin, flying across the dirt course at high speed, hit a triple jump when something went awry and he was forced over his handlebars.
His dad ran out to the track.
"I basically held him in my arms like I always do when he crashes," Chester said.
Paramedics took Devin first to Northside Hospital, then to Bayfront Health St. Petersburg, his father said.
"He overloaded the waiting area and the chapel at the hospital with friends and family," Chester said. Devin died at 12:21 a.m.
"He had devastating injuries that he just couldn't overcome, and he went into cardiac arrest," Chester said.
Before the school year began, Chester said, Devin visited FSU with his mother, but his passions were always riding his dirt bike and fishing.
That's who Michael Chester remembered Friday. Devin, smiling as his dad ran toward him when he placed fifth at Daytona, or casting a line into the gulf, ready to bring up another trophy tarpon.
"We're going to miss him terribly," Chester said, "and our hearts are broken forever."
Times staff writers Weston Phippen and Tony Marrero, and researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Zachary T. Sampson at [email protected] or (727) 893-8804. Follow @zacksampson.