Fiery auto crash claims the lives of 4 popular students

Friends and neighbors leave flowers, mementos and personal notes at the scene of an April 11 car crash that claimed the lives of four area high school students.

Educators, students, parents and friends are coming to grips and trying to console one another following the tragic deaths of four teens in a fiery car crash April 10 in Seminole.

Joseph Scott Ruzecki, 16, of Seminole; as well as passengers Keith Vincent MacCollom, 17, of Seminole; and Nathan S. Richardson, 15, of Pinellas Park died at the scene.

A third passenger, LeShawn Allan Smith, 16, of Largo, died on the way to Suncoast Hospital. A fourth passenger, Corey Kenneth Lepore, 17, of Seminole was transported to Bayfront Medical Center in serious condition.

Ruzecki, MacCollom and Richardson were students at Seminole High School and Smith attended Largo High School.

A string of grieving friends and parents visited the scene of the accident over the weekend to drop off flowers, mementos and personal notes.

Pinellas County Schools' grief counselors were on hand at Seminole High School April 13 to assist faculty members with the tough task of helping students through a difficult period.

The accident

According to a Florida Highway Patrol report, a 2005 Lexus, driven by Ruzecki, was traveling westbound on 86th Avenue N. about 11:15 p.m. at what “preliminarily appears to be a high rate of speed.”

A second vehicle, a 1993 Chevrolet Lumina Z34, driven by Richard Allen Goltl, 42, of Seminole was also traveling westbound on 86th Avenue N. ahead of the Lexus.

The accident happened when the Lumina started a left turn onto 141st. Street N. just as the Lexus was passing on the left side, the report said.

The front of the Lexus struck the Lumina, spinning it clockwise. The Lexus struck a large pine tree on the south shoulder of 86th Avenue N. and caught fire. Four passengers were thrown from the car. They were not wearing seat belts. The driver was the only one wearing a seat belt, the report said.

Goltl, 42 was not injured.

An FHP spokesman said it is unknown if alcohol was a factor in the crash. Toxicology results are pending.

According to a report in the St. Petersburg Times, Lepore said Ruzecki had been in a hurry to get home due to an 11 p.m. curfew. Florida law states that drivers 16 years old must be accompanied by a driver age 21 or older if they are on the streets after 11 p.m., unless they are driving to or from work.

The victims and survivor

All four victims were well-liked students and considered great kids, school officials said.

Word of their deaths spread quickly throughout the Seminole community on the night of the accident and forced officials at Seminole High School to open the auditorium for grief counseling when hundreds of students and friends converged on the accident scene.

“Everybody in town knows one of them,” said Gary Weaver, whose son Cody was a close friend of the victims. “It is such a tragedy.”

“This has absolutely rocked the community,” said David Foushee whose step-son Brett Phillips was a teammate with Richardson on the Seminole High baseball team. “He (Richardson) was a good kid who spent the night at my house with my son quite a bit.”

His friends spoke highly of Richardson as well.

“He was always energized,” said Seminole High senior Scott Robinson.

“He was always making fun and putting a big smile on people’s faces,” said Jeff Belcher, a 2008 graduate of Seminole High.

Smith, a junior at Largo High, would have celebrated his 17th birthday on April 24, said close friend John Shea, also a junior at Largo High.

“He was the kid at school that had the craziest clothes,” said Shea. “Everybody wanted to be his friend. He didn’t have any enemies.”

MacCollom, a junior at Seminole High, played on the Warhawks’ varsity basketball team.

Ruzecki, a junior at Seminole High, was described as well-liked and a big supporter of Seminole High sports.

Friends said that Lepore, a junior at Seminole High, is a big fan of the Warhawks’ basketball team.

A candlelight memorial service planned Tuesday night, has been moved due to the inclement weather. The service has been rescheduled for Wednesday, April 15, 8:30 p.m., at the Seminole High School Football Stadium.

Edit: Changed date of memorial service