LAND O'LAKES — Scott Bartolotti always harped on his friend, Brandy Stevens, to resist lashing out at annoying drivers.
"Don't yell at people," he'd tell her. "Don't honk your horn."
That's why Stevens is baffled as she talks now about Bartolotti, 38, who was shot and killed Tuesday night in what deputies called a road-rage incident.
Bartolotti was driving alone in Land O' Lakes near the intersection of Collier Parkway and State Road 54 when Pasco County Sheriff's Office deputies said he and another motorist got into some kind of disagreement.
The spat continued for about two miles, to the intersection of U.S. 41 and State Road 54, where the other man fired a gun from his vehicle into Bartolotti's, killing him, deputies said.
"Scott was like a son to my father," Stevens, 38, told the Tampa Bay Times on Wednesday. "My daughter is devastated. I'm devastated."
The two had known each other since elementary school. Bartolotti would cart Stevens along on the handlebars of his bike as they grew up around Lake Padgett.
"Even if we're fighting, he's got my back," Stevens said.
Bartolotti graduated from Land O' Lakes High School. At his home on Martha Lane, he'd take in stray animals and keep them as pets, Stevens said, like his two cats — a gray one named Smokey and a white one with a grumpy face.
He liked hunting deer, tinkering with machinery and admiring vintage cars. At different points in his life, he collected guns and knives, and on the night he died, he was headed to his father's home to show off a new knife, Stevens said.
Stevens recalled how skilled her friend was at scooping up broken machines online and fixing them to sell. Maybe he'd start a business with his hobby, she always thought.
Bartolotti had an arrest record dating back to the mid-'90s — with charges including marijuana possession, theft and robbery — but in recent years, he had gotten his life together, Stevens said. His last arrest was in July 2014. He had recently been working in glass as a glazier.
"When he messed up, he was really hard on himself," Stevens said, adding later, "He was always trying to be better than the day before."
A few days before her friend died, Stevens was driving home from work when "something told me, 'Go by Scott's,'" she said. She listened, and found Bartolotti outside his house with his girlfriend. He was excited to tell Stevens about a massage chair he had just gotten and spent time showing her the latest find.
"I'm glad I listened," she said Wednesday. "Because that was — will be — the last time I ever see him."
The man suspected in the shooting stayed at the scene afterward and has remained free, cooperating with investigators, the Sheriff's Office told the Times. He was not identified. Deputies are asking that anyone who might have seen what happened contact them.
Meantime, many questions are still running through Stevens' mind.
"Why would he have the right to shoot him?" she asked. "It's not right. I don't care what you say to somebody."
Times senior researcher Caryn Baird and staff writer Tony Marrero contributed to this report. Contact Justin Trombly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @JustinTrombly.