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An alcohol-fueled night ends with a fiery crash, one dead and eight injured

Florida Highway Patrol said an 18-year-old suspected of drinking ran a red light, hitting a pickup truck in Clewarwater. Seven people were hospitalized and one teen died. (Sgt. Steve Gaskins, Florida Highway Patrol)
Florida Highway Patrol said an 18-year-old suspected of drinking ran a red light, hitting a pickup truck in Clewarwater. Seven people were hospitalized and one teen died. (Sgt. Steve Gaskins, Florida Highway Patrol)
Published Mar. 12, 2017

They packed into a 2008 Dodge Caliber — six of them, all younger than 21.

The driver of that car had been drinking, troopers said. So, they said, had the driver of the truck he met at an intersection.

The truck was left crumpled.

The car burst into flames. An 18-year-old woman was dead. And eight others, ages 15 to 23, were sent to hospitals.

The aftermath early Saturday unfurled in a fury of social media activity showing that at least one person seemed to know the risks that night.

Before he and his friends reached the intersection about 1 a.m., Donavan Patterson, 18, wrote on Facebook that he was "tryin' not to remember my name (tonight)" and that he had to drive.

He implied he'd still drink: "(I'm going to) do it anyways, knowing me."

• • •

Here's how the collision happened, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

When Patterson ran a red light at Curlew Road and McMullen-Booth Road between Palm Harbor and Oldsmar, investigators said, he hit Dalton Cox's pickup truck. Two passengers were with Cox, 22, in his Ford F-250. Megan Bortolus, 21, and Victoria Rowe, 23, both had minor injures.

Jocelyn Schirmer, riding in Patterson's car, died instantly. She was 18, Brazilian and lived in St. Petersburg. She wasn't wearing a seat belt.

Like most, the young people lived much of their life through Instagram selfies, Twitter updates and Facebook profiles.

At least one other passenger — a 15-year-old girl — "liked" the post from Patterson, according to screen grabs circulated Saturday on Facebook. That girl, Kianna Diaz, was in critical condition Saturday evening at Tampa General Hospital. Another 15-year-old, Jayla Simpson, was also in critical condition and being treated at St. Joseph's Hospital. Someone close to her commented on a Tampa Bay Times Facebook post and wrote that both of her legs were broken.

Patterson and Cox were listed in serious condition along with 20-year-old Caleb Moore Lindsay.

Jocelyn Schirmer's brother, Paul "PJ" Schirmer, 17, was also in the crowded Dodge Caliber and was in serious condition Saturday night.

The youths were popular on social media, especially Jocelyn, whose photos often garnered thousands of likes on Instagram. When Saturday came, their friends filled their feeds with questions of who was to blame.

FHP Sgt. Steve Gaskins said toxicology reports, as well as charges, are still pending.

It's unlikely, friends of those involved wrote online, that the passengers in both vehicles didn't know their driver had been drinking. They all got in.

• • •

When Jocelyn Schirmer was a freshman at Pinellas Park High School, sophomore Hope Ventura befriended her during their bus commute to school from St. Petersburg.

Ventura, 20, remembers how Schirmer adored her younger brother PJ. The two performed songs together at school talent shows — PJ would rap and Jocelyn would sing. She'd sing on the bus rides, too, Ventura recalled. She was a swimmer and active at her high school.

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"She always made people feel good about themselves," she said.

Schirmer graduated high school in 2016. A former co-worker at Dunkin' Donuts, Stevie Thomas, said she wanted her family to have a better life. She worked hard.

She shared a lot on social media. She showed off outfits in dressing rooms. She talked about guy troubles. She groaned about a court date she had last week. Records show she was arrested on charges of theft and burglary. She wrote that people at parties told her they were so glad she was out of jail.

She was arrested alongside Patterson in December for custodial interference. Both had been arrested on drug possession charges. Patterson has been in and out of the legal system since at least 2013. He violated probation and pleaded guilty to being a felon in possession of a weapon in that span.

Family members of the two youths could not be reached Saturday.

Cox appeared to have no criminal record in Florida, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. He and his family could also not be reached for comment Saturday.

Thomas, 21 of St. Petersburg, didn't know Patterson or the others in the car well. She said she could not speak to a reporter without crying but wrote to the Times:

"Social media may try to say a lot of negative stuff about her but if you didn't actually know her there's no way to understand who she was."

She was like family, Thomas said. She was loving. She knew how to make you laugh.

But it seemed that in December, after her arrest, Schirmer recognized life wasn't permanent.

"I'm gonna write a letter to everyone if anything was ever to happen to me," she typed on her Twitter account. She wrote she only wanted it read at her funeral.

She replied to it:

"It's going to be under my mattress. Don't forget."

Senior news reseacher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Sara DiNatale at Follow @sara_dinatale.


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