VALRICO, Fla. - It started with just a handful of people slowly walking to the tree where a teenage boy had been killed just 24-hours earlier. Within minutes, the small group grew to a few dozen, and then several dozen, and then hundreds. Soon after, the police had to close off Natures Way to traffic to protect the crowd as they paid tribute to a fallen friend.
16-year old Zachary McCarthy was killed when his car crashed at the intersection of Golf Meadow and Natures Way at 9:30 p.m. Jan. 2. The Bloomingdale High School student had gone to get ice cream with a friend when the Pontiac Grand Am spun out and struck the tree. McCarthy was transported to Tampa General hospital where he died. The passenger, Michaela Faessler, 15, was not injured.
"Every time I saw him he would always be smiling," said Laura Swartz, a friend from school and church. "He would always care about what other people wanted and not for himself," she said.
The crowd that showed up for the evening vigil was a testament to his high regard within the community, according to McCarthy's pastor. Craig Swartz of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Riverview said he's been consoling family and friends ever since the deadly accident.
"It brings the congregation together and makes us trust in the hope we have in Jesus that he's in heaven and in a better place," Swartz said.
McCarthy was an accomplished singer, and was part of the Ambassadors, a school chorus group. He also sang for his church.
The high school junior played the trumpet, and there was word that the band members would wear all black to honor McCarthy when school resumes on Monday.
Speed is being investigated as a possible factor in the crash, but the case is still under investigation.
Barrett Swartz said he remembered seeing McCarthy at a recent church service.
"It was just like a shock hit you. It's not reality," Swartz said. "I still don't know what's going on."
Kristen Fagg is a senior at Bloomingdale, and said while it's been a painful experience dealing with the loss, there's been a strong sense of community since he died.
"All the Bloomingdale kids have come together as a family," Fagg said.
"Once a bull, always a bull."