Classmates and friends, many dabbing tears, joined with family members Wednesday to say an emotional goodbye to Blake Elrod, a 17-year-old killed in a traffic crash.
But Elrod’s loved ones made sure the 40-minute service wasn’t just a time of mourning. It was a celebration of the life of the Plant City High School senior, who was known for his passionate approach to everything and everyone he cherished.
“In a world that says teenagers are disrespectful, Blake respected everyone,” said his second cousin, Eric Houseworth, who is a Baptist minister in McDonough, Ga. “He was not a teenager but a young man of integrity.”
Blake, the only son of Blake and Stacy Elrod, loved the outdoors, friends and family. Jessica Brown, who dated him, called Elrod “the most loving and selfless person I have ever met.”
“I thank the Lord that I got to know him. He truly loved life to the fullest and he will always live in our hearts,” said Brown, also a Plant City High senior.
Brown cried as she recalled trips they had taken together and the way he treated his friends like family.
Blake died Friday night when he ran a red light while driving west on Knights-Griffin Road and hit a semi trailer that was traveling north on State Road 39, the Florida Highway Patrol reported. His 2001 Honda burst into flames and he died at the scene, troopers said.
Blake, known as “Little Blake,” was born in Tampa and moved to Plant City as a toddler. He became a Christian at a young age and loved playing the guitar in church and writing his own music, said the Rev. David Jennings, a pastor at First Baptist Church of Brandon.
He also loved to visit the Ocala National Forest, where the accomplished outdoorsman would ride dirt bikes, hunt and fish.
He father, known as “Big Blake,” was his best friend, Houseworth said. The teenager was a World War II buff who looked forward to a graduation trip to Europe with his grandfather, Jerry Elrod, Houseworth said. He planned to attend the University of Georgia.
Houseworth, noting that every seat in the Hopewell Funeral Home chapel was filled and mourners spilled out into the hallway, said, “Look at how many people he touched.”
At the front of the room was a huge photo of Blake, flashing a toothy grin.
That’s the way everyone will remember him, Houseworth said.
“There was always a smile on his face and that reflected the love that was in his heart. He cared deeply about all those around him.”
Beside his parents, he was survived by grandparents, Kristi Chaiser, and Jerry and Gail Elrod; and an extended family.