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Parents mourn loss of "friend'

A Chevrolet S-10 race truck Eric Lee Cipolla and his father, Don, had been building for years lay in pieces at their home north of Brooksville.

The project, which tightened the bond between father and son, might never be completed. Eric "Peanut" Cipolla, a junior at Hernando High School who liked anything fast _ BMX bike riding, mudbogging and NASCAR _ died of injuries he suffered in an accident on Griffin Road last Thursday.

Eric was the fourth Hernando High student to be killed in a car crash this year. He was 16.

"My husband is devastated," said Eric's mother Karen Cipolla. "He was his dad's best friend. They had a good relationship."

The nature of that relationship between father and a teenage son became more apparent on Tuesday as Don Cipolla, 42, rummaged through Eric's belongings and found a school project about his favorite hobbies.

Eric wrote that if he were to die tomorrow, he would "like to race down the track one last time."

The speed and horsepower thrilled him, he wrote. He liked to hang out with his dad. It was that camaraderie with his father that kept him attached and gave the hobby life.

"Oh my god," Karen Cipolla said on Tuesday. "He was a gift from God, so it is very hard. I could not understand why."

According to the Florida Highway Patrol, Eric was heading north on Griffin Road about 6:45 a.m. Thursday when the Pontiac Vibe he was driving suddenly veered off the roadway. He had spent the night at a friend's house and was returning to his home on Willow Street, a place where he was affectionately referred to as the head of the "House of Huddle".

Don Cipolla was supposed to drive Eric to school because his pickup truck had broken down.

But as the Pontiac traveled back onto Griffin Road south of State Road 50 early Thursday, it spun and then careened across the road and into the shoulder. The car then struck some trees and continued to spin before stopping, an accident report stated.

"I knew something was wrong 10 minutes to seven when he was not here," said Karen Cipolla.

Eric was flown to Tampa General Hospital, where he was placed on life support. The next day, at 5:10 p.m. Friday (Sept. 17, 2004), he was pronounced dead.

The Cipollas donated Eric's organs because their son would have wanted it that way, they said.

"He was just the most loving you would ever meet," Karen Cipolla said.

Born in Daytona Beach, Eric moved to Hernando in 1991. He was the type of person who never missed class or work. He worked at Master Lube Inc. on SR 50. After graduation, Eric planned to join the military.

Since the beginning of the year, three other Hernando High students have been killed in single-car wrecks.

In April, Joseph W. Hall, 18, was killed when he failed to make a curve on Mondon Hill Road, struck a culvert and rolled over.

Two months later, on June 25, Tommy Gaulin, 16, died in an accident on Powell Road. His best friend, Carlee Horan, 16, was killed three weeks later when she lost control of her Mercury sedan while trying to negotiate a curve on Mondon Hill Road near Soult Road.

The recent deaths have hit the Hernando High community particularly hard. Classmates have sought meaningful ways to remember their friends. Some of Eric's friends got tattoos in his memory, Karen Cipolla said.

Duane Bourne can be reached at (352) 754-6114 or