POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – A Lakeland community is mourning this week after a father and son with a legacy-making bond over music tragically died together in a car crash.

Aaron “AJ” Bates, 17, of Mulberry, had the character, the skills and the energy needed to be head drum major.

He was born for it.

“When I started to see those characteristics develop in AJ, it really just sealed the spot and the fact that his dad was a drum major. Aaron was investing that in AJ,” Luke Hart, director of band at Lakeland High School, said.

It was in his genes to be head drum major.

Aaron Bates (Courtesy: Alex Lampkins)

His father, 40-year-old Aaron Bates, also led the Lakeland High School Dreadnaught band from 1999 to 2000.

“His interest and love for the band continued as AJ became a freshman,” said Tim Darby, a longtime friend and high school bandmate of Aaron Bates. “The same commitment, the same effort on the band and leading the band, truly reflected what kind of parenting both he and [his wife] did.”

The Bates, both father and son, woke up before the sun on Feb. 25 to go to Walt Disney World.

The Lakeland High School Dreadnaughts performed at the theme park for marathon runners.

“The kid was full of energy. He was excited to be there. He was encouraging and energizing everyone else around him,” said Bates. “I am so thankful that that is my last memory of both of them together, experiencing music which is what brought their whole family together.”

The next morning, the father and son duo made another trip. This time, they were heading to Florida State University so AJ could audition for the School of Music.

(Courtesy: Alex Lampkins)

“There’s no way he would not have made that,” Darby said of AJ’s talent.

On I-10 in Madison County, the car they were driving crossed the median into oncoming traffic where it was hit by a truck, according to Florida Highway Patrol.

Both of the Bates died on scene.

The 17-year old Bates was the oldest of five children in the Bates family, according to a post about the family. His parents were high school sweethearts.

“It feels like our legs just got clipped out from underneath us with this horrific tragedy,” said Hart. “Overwhelmed with sadness, with anger, injustice, all these overwhelming feelings of grief that now everybody in this room, we all share.”

Hart said the crash marks a defining moment for Lakeland High School and the Dreadnaughts band.

Students memorialized young AJ’s chair in the band room and found comfort in what he always loved: music.

Courtesy – Luke Hart

“We are all now sharing an intense emotion that now we are able to still connect on this musical level and do some really beautiful things that really started to heal these past few days,” said Hart.

The band had been working towards its “music performance assessment” through the Florida Bandmasters Association. It was set for Friday night at Kathleen High School.

Hart asked the students if they still wanted to perform. They said they had to, in honor of AJ.

“Take all of this sadness, all this grief, all this – maybe even regret – and focus that onto something that Aaron was incredibly passionate about,” said Hart.

Courtesy – Tim Darby

According to a Facebook post on the Lakeland Senior High School Dreadnaught Band page, a joint funeral service will be held this Saturday, March 5 at Access Church, located at 4303 S Florida Ave in Lakeland. Doors open at 1:30 p.m. and the funeral begins at 2.

The service is open to the public. Attendees are encouraged to wear yellow, as it was Aaron II’s favorite color.