EAST MANATEE -- Friends and family say 18-year-old Brett Wagner had something rare, a magnetic smile that linked people together from all walks of life, from cowboys to athletes.
Wagner, a Lakewood Ranch High School senior from Myakka City, died at 9:25 p.m. Sunday from head trauma when he was ejected from a truck during a two-vehicle accident on State Road 64 at Rye Road.
One of his best friends, fellow Mustang Joshua Rogers, 18, of Myakka City, who was driving the truck and was also ejected, remained at Blake Medical Center in critical condition Monday, according to Wagner family members and others.
Neither Wagner nor Rogers were wearing seat belts, according to a Florida Highway Patrol report.
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Rogers’ condition is being monitored hourly by the Manatee County School District, said Margi Nanney, a Manatee schools spokeswoman.
“Our prayers go out to both these families during this incredibly difficult time,” Nanney said. “School is out now until January, but we will have support for these students when school restarts.”
A third passenger in the truck, Wagner’s cousin, former University of Florida tackle Terron Sanders, who was wearing a seat belt in the front seat next to Rogers, survived the accident with minor injuries and was among a throng who spent all day Monday at the Wagner home along S.R. 64 in eastern Manatee County.
To show Brett’s impact on his community, and perhaps the power of Facebook on his generation, roughly 200 of his friends, communicating through the social media site, met at dusk Monday at the site of his death to mount a white cross signed by hundreds and take pictures.
There weren’t any big speeches. There were hugs and tears for Wagner, an accomplished athlete who competed for the East Manatee Bulldogs and Lakewood Ranch High Mustang football teams and the Lakewood Ranch wrestling team and who lately, enjoyed hanging out with his “cowboy” friends and driving his big black Ford 4X4.
Bobby Dwyer, a friend, delivered the only little speech.
“I saw him Friday and he told me I was a crummy driver for the way I parked,” Dwyer told the crowd, eliciting laughs.
Then Dwyer stopped, unable to say much more.
There were whispers of admiration for Wagner from the crowd.
“His smile could make anyone’s day,” said Emily Smith, a friend. “He was known as B. Swag.”
Danielle Wildman, who was the first person to arrive for the memorial Monday, knew Brett when was he was young.
“He loved football and loved sports,” said Wildman, 26. “It’s tragic. It’s heart-breaking. All day long friends have been sending out prayers on Facebook.”
His best friends included Kevin Garza, Jimmy Hart, Dalton Dewey and Rogers, but there were also hundreds more.
“Let’s all go to McDonald’s,” Dwyer told the crowd at the memorial, leading to a rumble of big trucks starting up. “That’s what Brett would want.”
Wagner evidently loved McDonald’s and created an item himself called a “McMiracle,” which was a combination of a double burger and a chicken patty, said Dwyer and good friend Chase Gorny.
“Don’t say me or anyone else did this tribute,” Gorny said. “It was everyone.”
The crowd was scheduled to go to Myakka Worship Center at 7 p.m. Monday to say prayers for Brett and Josh.
A family in shock
The Wagner family has been in Bradenton since 1957, said Chuck Wagner, Brett’s uncle.
Brett’s dad, Fred, owns Bradenton’s Marine Surplus.
Fred has three brothers -- Chuck, Tim and Jay. Tim Wagner and Jay Wagner also work at Marine Surplus.
On Monday, Fred and Debbie, Brett’s mom and dad, told family members they didn’t know how they could go on.
“Brett was their baby,” said Lynda Wagner, Chuck’s wife.
“Brett’s personality was special,” said Tammy Sanders, who is Terron Sanders’ mom and Debbie Wagner’s sister. “He lit up the world. He made you laugh. He was extremely caring.”
Fred Wagner is battling diabetes and was looking forward, as was Brett, to a trip to the Daytona 500 in February with Fred’s father, Pete, and Brett.
“Brett helped his dad get to therapy and was an inspiration to him,” Chuck Wagner said.
Iziah Sanders, who has been married to Tammy Sanders for 22 years, watched Brett grow up along with his own son, Terron, who played in every game and started 12 of 14 for the University of Florida’s 2008 college football national champions.
Sanders most recently played for the Baltimore Ravens for a month, Terron Sanders said Monday.
Iziah Sanders watched Brett become a star in East Manatee Bulldog youth football, then play at Lakewood Ranch until this past year, and also wrestle.
“Brett was heavy into sports,” Iziah Sanders said. “But this year he started getting into cowboy stuff, his big truck, things like that.”
“He was just a very healthy boy who had a million friends,” Chuck Wagner said. “He was very self-confident.”
Iziah Sanders is known for asking youth, “What is your plan?”
“Brett came up to me and said, ‘I have a plan. I want to walk on at the University of Central Florida for football,’ “ Sanders said Monday. “He just told me that Friday. So, he had his plan.”
Wagner, Rogers and Sanders were headed to the Walmart on S.R. 64 to pick up an few things when the accident occurred.
A car that had been stopped on Rye Road pulled onto S.R. 64 and hit the pickup truck that Wagner, Rogers and Sanders were traveling in. The crash sent the truck rolling over, ejecting Rogers and Wagner.
Sanders never lost consciousness.
“I was awake through it all,” Sanders said Monday. “I got out and I screamed for my cousin. I held Brett in my arms. I can’t talk about it anymore.”
The other driver in the accident was charged with violation of right of way from a stop sign.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 6686.