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UF student killed returning from LSU game

Patrick E. Brett, of St. Petersburg, had just completed a U.N. internship at The Hague.

Published October 17, 2005

Fraternity brothers at the University of Florida's Phi Delta Theta house had gathered for Sunday night dinner when their somber-faced student president and adult adviser came in to make an announcement:

Patrick E. Brett, a popular sophomore from St. Petersburg who had just completed a U.N. internship at The Hague, had died that night in a car crash.

"You have a room full of about 60 college guys and you couldn't hear a sound. It was devastating for us," said Brian Graham, a junior and friend of Brett's.

"Patrick was just a wonderful person. He was the guy who lit up the room."

At the University of Florida, at Northside Christian School in St. Petersburg and in dozens of homes across Pinellas County, friends and family members were grieving from the loss of their 20-year old friend, even as they relived his funny comments and celebrated his accomplishments.

Many recalled his love of politics, his work ethic and how he used to say "I'm going to be president."

"Heaven must have needed a president," his aunt Sue Brett said Monday.

Brett was driving his Ford Explorer south on Interstate 75, south of Lake City, when the accident occurred. He and four friends were returning from Louisiana, where they had watched the Florida-LSU football game on Saturday.

Brett was talking on his cell phone to his father, Terry Brett of St. Petersburg, when a minivan cut in front of Brett's Explorer, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

"All of a sudden the phone went dead," Terry Brett said Monday.

His son swerved left and then turned back to the right to compensate. The Explorer flipped three times, landing finally on the driver's side.

FHP Lt. Mike Burroughs said a high school teacher who was at the scene began giving Brett CPR. Soon, three doctors arrived and began trying to resuscitate him. "He basically died in the arms of the doctors," Burroughs said.

The other four people in the car -- Matthew LaFleur, 22, Drew Metzger, 20, William Hawkins, 21, and Jennifer Ostrander, 20 -- received minor injuries, Burroughs said.

Terry Brett said he couldn't get back in touch with his son and "just felt like something had gone wrong." About 20 minutes after the phone died, one of the other passengers called to tell him about the accident.

"Patrick was the most unbelievable child. He was just outstanding in every way," Terry Brett said.

He said his son, a student body president, homecoming king, a member of the National Honor Society and president of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, "was just the most positive, uplifting inspiration I could ever imagine. He was just an unbelievable kid."

As an example, he said his son "wanted desperately to go to West Point." He qualified in every way, but then learned at the last minute he couldn't go because he was color blind.

Rather than despairing, Patrick Brett "within probably a day had completely accepted the fact and knew that it was probably all part of God's plan," said Terry Brett, who is co-owner of Brett Funeral Home.

Patrick Brett then grew excited about attending the University of Florida, and planned to go on to law school, and possibly into politics, family and friends said.

As to the comment about running for president, "he's been saying that for 10 years and I believe it was his actual goal," said Cindy Duff, who taught Brett in the distinguished scholars program at Northside. At Brett's high school graduation, "I said that I'd vote for him today, and I would. He would have made an excellent public servant."

Brett was excited about his recent opportunity to spend three months in the Netherlands working as an intern at the U.N. International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. He returned from the internship too late for fall classes at UF, but he planned to resume his studies in the spring semester.

Brett knew something about politics from his own family. His father is campaign manager and longtime a friend of St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker.

"What do you say to someone who's just experienced something like this? It's terrible," Baker said, visibly shaken after having visited the Brett family Monday. "I knew Patrick and he was a really great young man. He had a lot of heart. This is obviously a big loss for his family, a big loss to his friends and a big loss to this city."

The FHP investigation into the accident is continuing. Troopers want to speak to whomever was driving the minivan, which witnesses described as a Nissan Quest minivan, light blue or silver in color, driven by an older female with a younger female passenger, Burroughs said.

Witnesses said the driver pulled over about a quarter-mile south of the accident, but then continued driving south.

Brett's survivors include his parents, Terry and Kim, one sister, Kristen, 21; and two brothers, David, 17, and Drew, 15; his paternal grandmother Gail Brett Cyrus and maternal grandparents Bruce and Marilyn Akerson.The family asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be sent to the St. Petersburg Catholic High School Scholarship Fund, 6333 9th Ave N., St. Petersburg, FL 33710.

Friends may sign an online memorial gift book at

A service has been scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at Pasadena Community Church, 227 70th St. S.

-- Times Staff Writer Carrie Johnson contributed to this report.

[Last modified October 17, 2005, 20:01:23]

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