There were many hugs and tears and some laughter over happier memories as an estimated crowd of 300 students and parents gathered for a candlelight vigil on Natures Way and Golf Meadow Boulevard Jan. 3.
Beneath the tree where 16-year-old Bloomingdale High School student Zachary McCarthy crashed his car Jan. 2, a growing tribute included photos, flowers, messages, balloons and stuffed animals.
McCarthy, who lived in Preston Woods off Natures Way, was traveling west on his way to an ice cream shop at 9:25 p.m. when he lost control of his 2000 Pontiac Grand Am. The car spun out and the driver’s side door struck a tree.
McCarthy was taken to Tampa General Hospital where he later died. McCarthy’s passenger, Michaela Faessler, 15, was not injured.
The well-known sophomore was a member of the Bloomingdale High Ambassadors chorus and played trumpet in the Bloomingdale Rajun Bulls Band.
Among those in attendance was McCarthy's closest friend, Garrett Reeves, who said he was overwhelmed by the turnout for his friend.
"This is amazing, absolutely amazing," he said.
Later, he told the crowd, "Whether we see him or not, he's still here."
Prior to the candlelight vigil, students were invited to St. Stephen Catholic Church on Bell Shoals Road where grief counselors and members of the church's Community Emergency Response Team were on hand to help students deal with their grief.
Afterward, the students attended a prayer vigil at McCarthy's home church, Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Riverview, where an overflowing crowd of 250 people gathered.
In the interim, McCarthy's father, Doug McCarthy, took advantage of the social media that his son frequently used to thank the community for its support.
"God blessed us with 16 years with a wonderful and loving son," Doug McCarthy wrote on Facebook. "He is home now and singing his heart out in heaven for all to hear. He was a blessing to all who knew him. Your mom, Ben, Grace and I love you and will always have you in our hearts."
Friends describe Zachary McCarthy as a good-natured teen with a great sense of humor.
In addition to his parents, Doug and Jean, he is survived by an 11-year-old brother, Ben, and a 7-year-old sister, Grace.
A memorial service is planned for Sunday. Due to the size of the expected crowd, the service will take place at Bell Shoals Baptist Church, 2102 Bell Shoals Rd., Brandon.
The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office is continuing its investigation into the cause of the accident. The sheriff's office has not confirmed reports that there might have been a second vehicle involved.
The accident occurred just a few hundred feet west of the site where 19-year-old Bloomingdale High School graduate Nicole Petracci, also a member of the Ambassadors, was killed in November 2010. Petracci was a passenger in a pickup truck driven by Addison Strzalka, 20, who lost control and hit a tree.
See related content:
Bloomingdale High Student Killed in Crash
St. Stephen Reaches Out to Grieving Students
Candlelight Vigil Set to Remember Bloomingdale High Student