Brandon Hulvey’s face stared back from the photo on a church stage, a lost friend, a shattered invincibility.
The teenagers who stacked the pews Friday night in Estero remembered the 16-year-old for the little things, the best things. The hug between classes, the goofy smile, the companion on the bus ride home. He was, as many of them are, fun and gifted, young and fearless.
But Hulvey is gone while they remain, and that difference was the hardest part of a memorial service at the First Baptist Church of Estero. What began as the memory of a lost friend turned into a plea for a wake-up call, both practical and religious.
“Y’all think you’re invincible, but you’re not,” warned a familiar face, South Fort Myers High School health teacher Michelle Arbour. “It needs to stop. It needs to stop. It can happen to you.”
“His death is not in vain, because it woke you up,” offered the Rev. Frank Brand, before handing out bibles to those who approached the altar.
Hulvey died Monday after suffering fatal injuries in an alcohol-fueled car stunt gone wrong. With his best friend riding shotgun and another friend, driving intoxicated, the car jumped a railroad crossing on Broadway Avenue East at 70 mph, landed crooked and flipped into several trees.
The driver, Karina Campbell, 15, and friend, Jonathan Woodworth, 16, survived with injuries. Campbell, who registered a 0.19 blood alcohol level, could face DUI manslaughter charges. In Florida, 0.08 is the legal limit.
Woodworth was on hand Friday, dressed similarly as scores of Hulvey family members and his friends greeted him with hugs, a T-shirt with Hulvey’s picture, captioned “Gone but not Forgotten.” A few things stood out — the medical bracelet on his wrist, the 2-inch stitched gash on the side of his head.
The three were drinking before they got in the car, Woodworth said before the service, but he and Hulvey asked Campbell to turn around. She didn’t, he said, but wanted to hit the tracks as fast as she could.
Many at the church knew those tracks, Brand told the audience, and they had probably done the same thing. The audience answered with sniffs and sobs, each of which grew as friends remembered their friend.
He was a fifth-period friend, one girl remembered.
“He always made me laugh and smile, even though he was annoying,” she said.
He liked to rap, several people said. He cracked jokes and mugged for cameras.
He was a midnight refrigerator thief, laughed Woodworth’s mother, Stephanie Woodworth, who knew Hulvey from countless spend-the-nights.
His grandmother and grandfather recalled a boy who made do with what he had. He didn’t have a car to take to a job or a practice — his mother needing it for work — and he didn’t get an allowance. He left for school every morning at the crack of dawn. When he returned on the bus, he sat down to his computer.
“He was just smart,” said Mary Jean Hulvey, 69. “He didn’t have to study. He was always on the computer.”
Stephanie Woodworth turned serious when she was on the stage: “Never get behind the wheel after drinking or get into the car with someone who’s been drinking. Appoint a designated driver,” she said.
“Buckle your seat belt,” she added.
Hulvey was not wearing his seat belt and was ejected during the crash.
Hulvey’s father, Greg Hulvey, said after the service that he and wife Melissa had asked for the service to carry their message of warning. He seemed lost after the service, after hugging and shaking hands with most of the church.
“I don’t know what I want people to take away,” he said. “I just know what me and Missy had.”
After he passed the microphone around the church and handed out bibles to those who approached the front, Brand concluded the service with a warning: The roads were still slick from rain.
Maybe an hour later, after all the good-byes, a pickup truck hauled out of the parking lot. Crammed in its bed, a crowd of teenagers dressed in black.