Father of Manatee teen killed in crash thanks community for support
Setting the table for dinner one recent night, Daniel Powers said he had to stop himself from pulling down a fifth bowl from the cabinet.
It’s just one of the painful every day reminders that his family is trying to find a new routine, a new “rhythm.”
On Sept. 15, Powers and his wife, Rebecca, lost the oldest of their three children, 15-year-old Matthew Powers, in a fatal traffic crash.
They had a tracking app on their phones, and watched as the their son and his friend Chase Coyner, 17, left for the Lakewood Ranch High School homecoming dance that night.
The tracking app showed the boys stopped moving at State Road 64 and Pope Road/Greyhawk Boulevard.
Realizing something was wrong, they drove the two miles to the intersection. First responders were already there.
On Sept. 15, Chase was driving a 2012 Honda Accord west on State Road 64 around 7:38 p.m. when Florida Highway Patrol troopers say he tried to turn left onto Pope Road but was struck by an oncoming 2007 Dodge Ram.
A 12-year-old girl in the Ram was critically injured. The driver, a 39-year-old man suffered minor injuries, according to FHP.
Chase and Matthew both died from their injuries.
Powers said they stood at the scene for about two hours. Residents and bystanders gathered at the Greyhawk Landing community entrance offered them water. It was just one example of the community coming together to support the family.
Powers said he never got the chance to thank the first responders that night.
“They did an amazing job, they were professional, they were doing what they were supposed to do, doing what they were trained to do, so we would love to be able to thank them,” Powers said.
A ‘natural talent’
Matthew Powers, a sophomore at Lakewood Ranch High School, played several instruments and was a member of the school’s band. The director, Ron Lambert, posted an emotional tribute to Matthew the night of the crash.
Powers said Matt had an “immense natural talent” for music and it was “amazing” to watch him play the variety of instruments he was learning. First, the piano, which he started when he was about 8 years old. Later, the clarinet and the saxophone, a gift from his uncle. But at the piano, Powers said, Matt had a knack for hearing a melody and being able to play it after a few minutes of tinkering.
Matthew was starting to look at colleges, mostly Florida State University, where he wanted to major in music and become a band director.
“Everything was really coming together for him,” Powers said. “Which is one of the things that’s really has hit us.”
Fun-loving and a bit of “goofball” in class, Powers said his son loved hanging out with his friends. He took dance breaks during homework assignments before plopping back down into a chair and diving back into work — a video the family watches for a laugh during difficult days.
“I’ve told people, Matthew was the kid that he could walk into a room with 500 people, give him an hour and he’d be friends with at least 450 of them,” Powers said.
Something that’s helped the family is hearing stories from school and people who just casually knew Matthew about his kindness and sense of humor that lightened everyone’s moods.
“You only see glimpses of your kids when they are outside the house, and it’s amazing rewarding, heartbreaking but rewarding, to know that when he left the house, he did good,” Powers said.
Matt and Chase were friends from school, and played a lot of video games together, Powers said.
Though the Powers family and the Coyners didn’t know each other, at least not well, before Sept. 15, they’re now forever bonded by their heart-wrenching loss.
A community grieves, calls for change
Powers said since the crash, not only has he been in touch with elected officials, but the community and some local public officials have rallied around them.
“It’s been amazing, the reaction from the community,” Powers said.
A memorial was set up on the side of the road for the two boys shortly after the crash.
On his wrist, Powers wears a green bracelet with white letters, #MarchOnForMatt. The words represent the other members of the Lakewood Ranch High School band marching onto the field without a member. Powers said students told him they wrote it on their arms at school.
The band, which has been a support for the family, played at Matthew’s memorial service. They also created a memory tree that was recently planted in the family’s backyard.
A petition circulated the community, calling for a solution to unsafe conditions at the intersection where the boys died. The Florida Department of Transportation put up orange barrels to block to the left turn from westbound State Road 64 to Pope Road, until a roundabout can be built at the Pope Road/Greyhawk Boulevard intersection.
It is scheduled for construction in 2023.
Data from the FDOT showed the intersection was the site of 18 crashes in four years.
The interim block came as a relief but closing that lane, Powers said, only solves part of the problem.
“Our kids had to die so that somebody would get off their butt and do what they should have done to start with,” Powers said.
Powers said he and many others are frustrated with continued development and growth along the already busy road.
“Everybody out here knows it’s dangerous at best, treacherous at most which really has everyone up in arms,” Powers said.
But more than demanding change, various organizations across Lakewood Ranch offered to help family. The Little League Matt played in when he was younger, their church, the VFW, the School Board of Manatee County, were just a few Powers mentioned.
Carrying the burden
Now, Powers, a disabled Army veteran of 25 years with three combat tours, finds himself in a role he never expected — as a community advocate for safety.
“It’s a role I never thought I would be in. It’s something I didn’t want but if it needs to be done, I’ll do it,” Powers said.
While in the Army, his unit’ motto translated to “Let us carry the burden.”
But the family is starting to look for their new rhythm. Rebecca Powers will go back to work next week. Matthew’s younger siblings, Robert, 13, and Katie, 11, are back in school.
Powers, has lost some of his routine now, without Matthew needing rides to band practices or friends’ houses, but he will continue to do the same for Robert and Katie.
“We all support each other, that’s really the big thing.”