Epilogue: Aaron Barnhouse, an eccentric motorhead who created community

Published September 11 2018
Updated September 15 2018

TRINITY — The day he died, Aaron Barnhouse looked characteristically goofy.

It was Sunday, about noon, and the 19-year-old was cruising west down State Road 54 on his orange KTM 520, a dirt bike with racing wheels he had long sought and finally snagged.

Stretched over his helmet was a fuzzy orange Elmo mask, with bulbous eyes and a gaping mouth cut out for his visor.

"He was glowing when he was on the road, man," said his father, Scott Barnhouse, a few days later. "I really thought that would’ve protected him better."

Minutes from his New Port Richey home, Barnhouse was killed when Milagros Beda Coulmas, 74, turned her Toyota Matrix out of the eastbound lane on SR 54 and into the path of the teen’s motorcycle, troopers said. The bike slammed into her passenger door, killing him. Coulmas sustained minor injuries and faces no charges.

The decorated helmet and brightly painted bike couldn’t save Barnhouse. But because of them, people in this part of Pasco County sure knew him.

The get-up reflected his odd charm — tattoos, piercings and a penchant for Hawaiian shirts — and his eccentric dedication to machines that he shared with others.

Support for the Barnhouse family has poured in from the community since the crash. Donors have given nearly $10,000 via GoFundMe. Over and over, strangers have told the family about times they saw their son, an orange blur streaking by that brightened their day.

• • •

Barnhouse was born in Tarpon Springs on Sept. 17, 1998, to his father Scott and mother Brandi. After him came brothers Kenny, 17, and Greg, 15. They lived in the same house all his life.

As a boy, he loved tinkering. Around 7, he built functioning rubber-band guns out of Legos to do battle with his brothers. He took after his father, a mechanic.

"He follows my passions," said Scott Barnhouse. "He is a gigantic motorhead."

He absorbed lessons taught by his parents. Around ninth grade, they recalled, their son joined students on the bus picking on a younger, disabled kid.

When the father found out, he ripped into his son. And his son changed. "He turned the whole bus into his protectors," he said, referring to the younger boy.

Barnhouse himself had a reading disability, which slowed his academics. He attended adult classes at J.W. Mitchell High School between work in sales at Vape Supply Plus in New Port Richey and as a machine operator at Burns Precision Turning in Safety Harbor.

"I’d say right now I’m very busy and pushing (through) everything," he wrote in a June post on Facebook. "Maybe not at the same speed but just making some (progress) is better than nothing. Everything around me is pretty positive and always fun and I appreciate everyone that (is) here and moving forward with me."

• • •

Since his teens, Barnhouse had repaired motorcycles and cars. He had recently been fixing a 1997 Jeep Grand Cherokee, which his father, brother Kenny and his best friend, Matt Smeaton, plan to finish.

Ten months ago, he and friends began organizing car meets, drawing weekly crowds of up to 200 people to show off hot rods..

About five months later, he began dating Kalista Athan, 20. They had met at a haunt by school, where mutual friends hung out.

Why did her boyfriend love working with machines so much? Independence.

"If he can make it himself, he feels satisfied," she said.

He liked trading for vehicles that, with effort, would be valuable, then trading those refurbished models for better gear. That’s how he got his first motorcycle, parlaying one motorbike into a scooter, the scooter into a car and then the car into the bike.

When he saw that orange 2002 KTM in February at a bargain, Barnhouse paid in cash rather than try for a trade. It was the type of rig he always wanted.

"He had just made it perfect, too," said his father.

• • •

Barnhouse had spent the night of Sept. 8 at Athan’s home on Crestridge Loop in Trinity. The next afternoon, he was running late for work and needed fresh clothes from home.

Standing in her driveway, he kissed Athan goodbye like always, mounted the KTM and pulled on his helmet, looking like a bobblehead. Then he pushed it back up.

"?‘One more kiss before I go,’?" Athan remembered him saying.

"And then he just got on his bike and left."

He steered onto SR 54, rather than his usual route, Trinity Boulevard.

He passed the intersection with Little Road, driving in the left westbound lane, approaching the entrance to Walmart on his right. Then Coulmas, in the opposite lane, turned.

"He was aware it could happen," Scott Barnhouse said. He hadn’t put his son on a motorcycle without warnings. But they both relished in the freedom riding provided.

"It was worth it," he continued. "It was worth the risk."

Contact Justin Trombly at jtrombly@tampabay.com.
Follow @JustinTrombly.