UF student and girlfriend were 'on cloud nine' before fatal crash


Published: Wednesday, December 11, 2013 at 7:10 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, December 11, 2013 at 7:10 p.m.

Brandon Mead and Ashlee Lightner were on “cloud nine,” Ashlee's mom said.

They had just left the cramped apartment they shared with Brandon's roommate in southwest Gainesville and were driving across town to their new apartment at Uptown Village at Townsend to see how far their new place is from the old one.

That's when the accident occurred, when Mead and Lightner were killed after their car rammed into a large oak tree, flipped upside down and burst into flames on Southwest 24th Avenue.

Lightner, 26, and Mead, 22, a University of Florida senior math major, had only been going out since July, but Lightner's mother, Laura Hofmann-Lightner, 52, said they were “like glue.”

“They were so excited about moving into the new apartment,” she said. “It was all they talked about. They were both on cloud nine.”

On Monday, Lightner's sister, Alexandria Lightner, 20, went to visit the couple at the apartment that Lightner and Mead were leaving. Around 1 a.m. on Tuesday, Lightner told her sister that she and Mead were going for a drive -- from the old apartment to the new one.

Gainesville police say Mead was driving west on Southwest 24th Avenue near the roundabout at the intersection with Southwest 38th Terrace at a high speed when he hit the roundabout and left the roadway. Mead's black Nissan 300Z was engulfed in flames that reached 30 feet into the air by the time that Alachua County Fire Rescue and Gainesville police arrived at the scene, said Gainesville Police Department public information officer Ben Tobias.

Alachua County Fire Rescue extinguished the fire, revealing Lightner's and Mead's bodies inside the vehicle, Tobias said.

Lightner's mother said her daughter was living “a fairy tale” with Mead before her death.

“She had never been in love like this before,” she said. “She was always looking for someone special, and she found that in Brandon.”

Moving into their own place was a milestone for Lightner. She was planning to go to school to become a counselor for emotionally handicapped kids, while Mead took the last two classes he needed to graduate from UF in the spring, her mother said.

“She told me recently, 'I don't know what I would do without you, Momma,' ” Lightner said. “She needed to cut the apron strings and I think it was finally happening before the crash.”

Lightner's sister Alexandria said Ashlee was the happiest person she had ever seen after she started dating Mead.

“They could not live without the other,” she said. “I feel special blessed to have spent the last hours with her. It still doesn't seem real.”

Earlier on Monday, Mead's father, Gary Mead, 49, of Coral Springs, had signed the papers so that the couple could live in the apartment. Although he had just met Lightner, he said he could tell his son was in love.

“Brandon would tell me 'she's just so nice to me,' ” he said. “They were both making googly eyes at each other the whole time while we were signing for the apartment.”

Mead's father said his son wanted to use his math degree to be an actuary, a business professional who analyzes the financial consequences of risk. After he left South Florida for UF, Mead called his father every day, and on Sunday, they would watch football games over the phone, Gary Mead said.

Mead's mother, Annica Lawrence, 52, of Coral Springs, said the shock of losing Brandon has not sunk in yet. Lawrence had not met Lightner, but she said from her son's numerous Facebook posts and pictures, the couple seemed excited and happy.

“My mother just died last week.” Annica Lawrence said. “The whole thing has been a double devastation. I don't even know how we're dealing.”

In Gainesville on Wednesday, Lightner's mother said the couple's long-haired Chihuahua, Lola, constantly looks around the rooms of the house for her owners.

“I'm glad they both went happy and that they were together when they passed,” Lightner's mother said. “I don't think either one of them could have lived without the other.”

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