TAMPA — Carlos Medina and Max Smith were friends for nine years — for a pair of teenagers, a long, long time. They met, Smith recalled, as kids on a swim team that Medina’s mom coached. Both were outgoing and upbeat, and they became fast friends in the pool.
As they got older, they spent more time together out of it. They’d play video games, go to the beach or surf. Smith got Medina a job, so they also worked together. They were buds, but it wasn’t lost on Smith that Medina showed the same kindness and generosity to strangers that he did to his closest friends.
“Every single person at school knew him,” said Smith, 18. “It didn’t matter who you were, he’d always treat you as if you were his best friend for 10 years.”
Still, Smith said he didn’t realize how many cared about Medina until Tuesday, when what seemed like the entire Plant High School student body wore blue to honor the 16-year-old.
It was the day after Medina had been pronounced dead at Tampa General Hospital, succumbing to the injuries he suffered in a car crash Saturday on Davis Islands.
Tampa police said Medina was driving at a “high rate of speed” on S Davis Boulevard at about 1:38 p.m. Saturday when he tried to pass another vehicle in a no-passing zone, police said. He lost control of his car, police said, which spun, struck the curb and crashed into a light pole. The investigation into the crash is continuing.
Medina had only been driving his Ford Mustang for a couple of weeks, said Todd Hoffmeier, a close family friend and the aquatic director at Greater Tampa Swim Association. Medina swam for the club since first grade, and his mother is a swim coach there.
The teenager worked for two years to save up for the car, Hoffmeier said. He said it was a sign of Medina’s industriousness: In addition to swimming for his club and high school teams, he was also involved at his church and had become a “man of the house” figure for his younger brother after his parents separated.
The Plant High junior also planned to graduate early and start college classes as soon as possible. He aspired to become a pilot and dreamed of buying a house for his mom.
“His drive was to make his family better,” Hoffmeier said. “He wanted to make his mom happy and let his brother and sister see what he’s done.”
Medina was coming into his own at 16, Hoffmeier said. He knew how to put others at ease. He watched out for his younger siblings. He wore a constant smile, created his own spotlight and thrived in it. The coach thought of the teen as a leader.
Smith said he’ll most miss his friend’s presence — a combination of restless energy, a high-pitched laugh that came easily and his ability to befriend everyone he met.
“He’d call everyone his bro,” Smith said. “Because everyone was.”