TAMPA, Fla. (FOX 13) - The mother of a 21-year-old who was hit and killed while standing with a tow truck driver along the side I-75 in Tampa can't believe her son is gone or that she witnessed his death.
Danny Schaffer had just spent Saturday night with his family in Bradenton and was driving his girlfriend north on I-75. He noticed his tire felt loose, so he pulled over near the Selmon Expressway.
His parents, Jennifer and Stephen Schaffer, headed there to help. At around 2:30 Sunday morning, the tow truck arrived and Jennifer will never forget what happened next.
"Danny was smiling and saying, you know, 'I got it,' because they were putting the final hooks and I looked over and I saw him smile and the next second he was gone," she told FOX 13. "Danny didn't even know what happened because it was instant."
A pickup truck had slammed into her son and the tow truck operator. In the blink of an eye, Danny was gone.
"He was so special, always smiling, always had a smile for everyone. I don't think there was a person on the face of the Earth that didn't like Danny. If you met him you loved him. He was like a big teddy bear, a big teddy bear," his mother said.
According to Florida Highway Patrol, Schaffer's car was already loaded onto the truck when the accident happened. All three vehicles burst into flames. Burn marks are still visible on the pavement.
The tow truck operator, Marc Smith, 29, was treated for his injuries at Tampa General Hospital and released. The driver who lost control suffered minor injuries.
Love and support are pouring in for the Schaffers, but Stephen Schaffer is struggling.
"I can't view the comments. I can't see his smiling face yet," Danny's father said.
"Because he doesn't want to believe that he's gone," added Jennifer Schaffer.
Danny's parents said remembering the smiles their son brought them will help them cope with the loss.
"I fear this will be a long road. Nobody wants to see your son or daughter pass away so early," Stephen Schaffer said. "He was just an amazing man with a kind heart."
FHP hasn't determined if the driver will face charges. The cause of the crash is still under investigation.