Before she rode the YOLO ethos to its tragic end, Kayla Mendoza was a standard-issue middle schooler with a quirky sense of humor and an interest in older guys. At least those are the memories one friend is hauling up out of the past today as Mendoza's name fills the headlines.
Katelyn Stone was shocked to hear her former best friend was behind the wheel of the Hyundai Sonata that crashed on the Sawgrass Expressway last week, killing two other young women. The image of Mendoza as the self-proclaimed "pothead princess" who crassly tweeted "2 drunk 2 care" before the crash doesn't jive with the girl Stone knew.
"My heart breaks to hear about this," she says. "She was such a sweet girl."
Stone and Mendoza met in English class at Trafalgar Middle School in Cape Coral. "We were instantly best friends," she says. Somehow Mendoza was able to duck the usual adolescent self-doubts. "She was one of the most confident people that I knew," Stone recalls. "She didn't second-guess herself; she was just so comfortable."
Mendoza was a quick wit, often cracking up the class with one-liners, to the teacher's dismay. Tasked with coming up with the ideas for inventions, she rattled off quirky ideas like a weave for whales and an automatic wedgie fixer. "She was just far out there," Stone recalls.
That oddball imagination wasn't fueled by any chemical additives, as far as Stone knew. When they were together, Mendoza was far from the "pothead princess" she'd later brag to be. She never boozed or smoked. The head-turning young girl, however, did reel in older dudes online "MySpace was the booty-call place to go," Stone says.
She recalls a trip to Fort Myers beach when the pair met up with older guys in their early 20s. Stone and Mendoza were around 14. "The dudes she was hanging out with were a little questionable."
Mendoza eventually moved away. The girls kept in touch. Last October, Stone planned a visit to the Miami area. She wanted her old friend to meet her husband. They shot messages back and forth on Facebook, but when the couple got to town, Mendoza stopped replying. The old friends never met up. Whenever Stone tried to establish contact, she got only silence and unanswered messages from the other end. Mendoza eventually blocked Stone on Facebook, she says. Then this week, Stone heard about the crash from a mutual friend.
"That's not the Kayla I knew," Stone says. "I don't know what she's been up to or who she's hanging around with, but she changed a lot."
Send your story tips to the author, Kyle Swenson.