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By MICHAEL SANDLER
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 12, 2001
BRANDON -- Jason Schleissing cruised in his beloved red, 1986 Mustang 5-liter convertible with a friend Saturday night after a day of thrill rides at Busch Gardens. Now the teenagers planned to check out hot rods in downtown Tampa.
It was the last moment of Jason's life.
The 16-year-old junior at Riverview Senior High was killed in a crash on the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway. The Florida Highway Patrol said he lost control of his car, though the surviving passenger said they were cut off.
"He had so much life in him," said 17-year-old Norman Manhin, who escaped without serious injury.
Somehow, Schleissing veered into the median, cut the wheel hard and slammed into a guardrail. That spun the car counterclockwise.
Even though he was wearing a seat belt, Schleissing was ejected from the vehicle onto the highway, where he was struck and killed a moment later by a trailing 1990 Oldsmobile, according to the Florida Highway Patrol report. Both boys had been wearing seat belts.
Manhin suffered minor scratches and mild back pain. The Mustang was totaled.
"I guess the lesson is that . . . at any given time, you can lose a good friend," he said.
Paul and Dolores Rogers, 73 and 71, respectively, of Pinellas Park were unharmed in the undamaged Oldsmobile. The couple declined comment, saying authorities persuaded them not to discuss the case.
"It was already over when I got there," said Paul Rogers.
Florida Highway Patrol officers did not return phone calls.
The accident happened about 9:30 p.m. just east of the exit for U.S. 301. Authorities did not say whether alcohol played a part, but the investigation was continuing.
Manhin said he told authorities a gray truck with red pinstripes and tinted windows unexpectedly moved into their lane, sending them into the guardrail.
"He did not even have his turn signal on," he said. "He kept coming over. Jason honked his horn, and I tried to make eye contact."
The two boys met as freshmen at Riverview High, Manhin said, after Schleissing had moved from Key West. They recently became close while organizing a school dance.
Both boys were car enthusiasts. They talked about fixing up the Mustang and enjoyed going downtown to see what other people were driving.
"We were thinking of tweaking it," Manhin said. "He never got around to it, but he loved cars."
Just hours before the crash, they had spent a fun day at the local amusement park, Manhin said. They had planned to return to the park and pick up the photos of them smiling aboard a speedy roller coaster.
On Sunday, Norman said he still intended to get the photos.
"He had fun," Norman said. "The past couple days we (both) had fun. It was strange for that reason."
- Michael Sandler can be reached at (813) 226-3472 or firstname.lastname@example.org.