WESLEY CHAPEL — Anthony Ledford knew he'd found a friend when he saw the worn-out skate shoes.
In the office at Forest Hills Elementary School in Tampa, Ledford, then in fourth grade, spotted Angel Gabriel Rodriguez Fiallos in the footwear that marked the skateboarding tribe — people who spend their weekends outside practicing and bonding over board tricks.
Two decades later, Ledford got a call. Fiallos had been struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver Aug. 3 while riding his Harley-Davidson XL1200 motorcycle, a hobby Ledford persuaded him to get into.
Ledford didn't believe it, not until he looked at the medical table and saw the black S8-Hi Vans that Fiallos wore. They were covered in dirt and blood.
Ledford joined more than 150 people who traveled to the gymnasium at North Tampa Christian Academy on Aug. 11 to celebrate the life of the Wesley Chapel man. Each chair, plus extra ones the staff put down, was filled. Late-comers stood in the back. Fiallos lay in a wooden casket topped by a skateboard and motorcycle helmet stuffed with sunflowers. He wore the T-shirt of favorite anime character Deku from My Hero Academia. His recent ex-girlfriend of almost 10 years, Stephanie Blasciak, bought it for him.
"I feel horrible that he lost his life at 26," Ledford said. "If he was taken, it was for a bigger purpose — that God took him for a reason. He was needed somewhere else."
Troopers said Fiallos was struck and killed about 7:30 a.m. when a 2000 Dodge Dakota ran a red light at the intersection of State Road 54 and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard. They then hit Fiallos, of Wesley Chapel, who was riding his motorcycle.
Cody Bearry, 31, of Wesley Chapel, was driving the Dakota and Breanna Lynn Wright, 23, of Dade City, was his passenger, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
They kept driving and collided with a Nissan Altima, propelling it into a fourth vehicle. They didn't stop then, either, the Highway Patrol said.
The pair ran across the highway to a Wawa gas station, carjacking a green 2002 Saturn and headed east on State Road 54.
They were spotted six hours later and 24 miles away, troopers said. Wright was caught in the 6600 block of Knights Griffin Road in Plant City but Bearry ran and was apprehended about 8 p.m. after a search through woods and a canal using tracking dogs.
They each face a number of charges in the incident. For Bearry, they include leaving the scene of a crash, fleeing police, carjacking, grand theft of a firearm and driving with a suspended license causing death, according to court records. Wright faces charges of carjacking with a firearm and possession of the drug Clonazepam, used to prevent and control seizures, according to court records.
Ledford, 27, said he and others who knew Fiallos plan to attend court hearings.
"I'm trying to get over the fact that there's two people still getting three square meals a day and running water after putting my best friend in a grave at such a young age," Ledford said.
During the viewing Sunday morning, the focus was on Fiallos' life and not how he died.
The crowd included family, friends he met at the skate park and identifiable from their many tattoos, motorcyclists in leather vests who had learned how he died, administrators in suits from Advent Health Wesley Chapel where Fiallos worked as a valet, even hospital patients he had greeted.
About two dozen people stood to tell their favorite stories about Fiallos. They all had the same theme: He never stopped improving his life and raised others up as he did.
He learned last year he had a brain tumor but medication he was taking gave his life a new spark. He started reading self-help books and woke up around 5 a.m. each day to work out. He grew in his spirituality. He loved his job at a valet, but began to consider more ambitious career paths — maybe barber school or firefighter academy.
The hospital loved him so much they wrote his name into the contract with their valet service, said Tyson Davis, chief financial officer.
Said ex-girlfriend Stephanie Blasciak, 28, "When I think about Angel, I think about somebody who would want you to look toward the future, not the past. He would want you to keep pushing on, no matter what."
Rebecca Fiallos said she's not sure what she's going to do without her only son. But seeing the outpouring of love for him confirmed for her that she had raised a good man.
"He impacted so many people's lives," she said. "My son was special. And he doesn't have a chance at life anymore because of these people."
Contact Paige Fry at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @paigexfry.