University of Tampa pauses to honor student killed by hit-and-run driver

TAMPA — Pictures flashing on the giant screen Friday in the University of Tampa's Plant Hall featured students smiling, dancing, laughing and enjoying life.

The photos were the only smiles in the room at the memorial for Erik Nicoletti, as more than 100 friends and his family gathered to remember a life cut short by a hit-and-run driver in November.

Six friends began organizing the memorial the day after Nicoletti's death, said Stephanie Russell Holz, the university's assistant dean of students.

"They came to me immediately and started putting things together," Holz said.

The 20-year-old's death was one of a series of incidents at the end of 2009 in which students were hurt or killed near campus.

In response to growing concerns about safety, the school's student government will hold a seminar with the Tampa Police Department on Tuesday night in UT's Vaughn Center, said university spokesman Eric Cardenas.

According to police, Nicoletti and a friend visiting from out of town, 19-year-old Cree Riley, had been on N Kennedy Boulevard near N Boulevard on Nov. 21 about 1:15 a.m. when a car hit them and drove away.

Riley was taken to Tampa General Hospital in critical condition. She and her parents drove down from Pennsylvania to attend Friday's memorial.

Organizers and fellow UT students Mike Torti and James McPartlon talked about meeting Nicoletti during their freshman year in 2007 and knowing they had a friend for life.

All five of those who spoke at Friday's memorial donned purple or neon green T-shirts with capital letters "EN" emblazoned in white to mirror the design of Nicoletti's favorite "EE" American Apparel shirts.

"They were his favorite colors," said organizer and girlfriend of Nicoletti, Chelsea Wells, 20, of Key West. She performed a tear-filled rendition of a poem titled "A Letter from Heaven."

Those who attended could buy the shirts for $10, which went to the Nicoletti family, Holz said.

The day after the crash, police arrested Andres Trujillo, 27, on charges of leaving the scene of an accident with death and violation of probation.

Trujillo is being held in the Hillsborough County Jail without bail while awaiting trial.

Nicoletti's mother, Dorothy Nicoletti, said she, too, is patiently awaiting Trujillo's day in court.

"I'd like his story to be kept alive so that everyone knows that he was killed, and this person who killed him, who will be facing trial, also hurt Cree Riley very, very badly," Mrs. Nicoletti said.

Just a few days after that crash, another UT student, Michael Louis-Fernand, 20, smashed his Volkswagen into a concrete wall around a Davis Islands home. One of his two passengers, Michelle Sams, 20, was critically injured.

Police have not determined if alcohol was a factor.

Sams is still undergoing physical therapy, but is now back at school, said her mother, Donna Sams.

"I hope they have many more of those seminars," Mrs. Sams said. "You make one bad decision, and it affects your whole life."

Both those crashes happened as students struggled to make sense of the August murder of Ryan McCall, 21. A robber shot him to death on the N Boulevard bridge.

Police said McCall and his friend, Michael Harahan, gave the man all they had, but the man shot McCall anyway. Harahan dialed 911 as he ran away.

Nearly six months later, McCall's killer is still unknown.

Each day gets tougher for McCall's family, said his father, Kevin McCall.

The elder McCall talked about the accident that killed Nicoletti and said he wished there was a safer way for students to commute around campus.

"These were random, both these things were random. These things don't happen all the time," McCall said. "But they could happen again."

University of Tampa pauses to honor student killed by hit-and-run driver 01/22/10 [Last modified: Saturday, January 23, 2010 12:12am]

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