2 dead, 2 injured in crash near North Marion Middle School
Published: Thursday, April 4, 2013 at 11:33 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 4, 2013 at 3:49 p.m.
Two former North Marion High School students died and two other young men were taken to a hospital with serious injuries early Thursday morning after a car ran off a two-lane road and struck a tree near North Marion Middle School in Citra.
Florida Highway Patrol troopers said the vehicle was headed west on County Road 329 approaching a right-hand curve. The driver lost control of the car, and it ran off the road and hit a tree.
Cornelius Lamar Rawls Jr., 19, of Reddick, and Bryan Lorenza Blunt, 22, of Ocala, were killed, according to FHP.
Rawls’ brother Demontay Drantail Billups, 22, of Reddick, and Eddie Donate Woods, 18, of Ocala, were taken to Ocala Regional Medical Center, according to FHP. Woods was in critical condition Thursday morning and Billups was in stable condition.
Clarissa Billups, the sister of Rawls and Billups, said the family is taking the news hard about Rawls.
“He always liked to joke around, and he had a baby on the way,” she said.
She said Billups’ nose is broken and he has an injury on his hip.
She said Woods and Blunt were cousins.
The crash occurred about 100 yards from North Marion Middle School shortly after 3 a.m., officials said.
Capt. Grady Grimes, a watch commander for the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, said the Sheriff’s Office received a call early Thursday about a strange person knocking on doors in the neighborhood. A deputy was dispatched to the area and, upon arrival, found the individual, Demontay Billups.
Clarissa Billups said Demontay told her that Blunt was speeding and lost control of the car. She said he told her he was knocked unconscious and that when he woke up Woods was crying. He said when he tried to wake his younger brother, he did not get a response.
Then, she said, he went looking for help.
“A lady came to the door with a gun and he told her not to shoot him but they were in a wreck and needed her to call for help,” she said.
He told her that by the time he returned to the car, emergency personnel were on scene.
Sheriff’s deputies detoured traffic from the scene as troopers investigated and worked to clear the road. Marion County Fire Rescue officials also were called to the scene. CR 329 was reopened by 8:45 a.m.
According to FHP, Blunt was driving the vehicle, Billups was in the front passenger seat, Rawls was in the left rear passenger seat and Woods was in the right rear seat. Troopers said none of the men were wearing a seat belt. Rawls and Blunt were thrown from the car.
The car was split in two, though the front and back halves remained close to each other. One of the front seats landed across the highway about 70 feet from the accident location.
Troopers said the wet roadway was a contributing factor, but they had not yet determined if speed played a role.
Rawls, Blunt and Demontay Billups all have connections to North Marion High School.
Rawls left the school in January, after playing football and basketball during one semester. He previously has attended Vanguard High School and was in the process of re-enrolling at that school.
NMHS football coach Craig Damon and basketball coach David Waters both said Rawls was a very good kid who was very respectful. They said he had played sports at Vanguard then went out of state and played one semester at North Marion when he returned to the area.
Damon said Rawls was a talented young man and had the ability to play college football.
“He worked hard in practice, and was fun to be around,” Damon said.
“He wanted to be a part of the program,” Waters said.
The coaches said Billups played basketball at North Marion and also went to Vanguard, where he finished school. They said Blunt played freshman football at NMHS. Superintendent of Schools George Tomyn indicated that Blunt had left North Marion High in 2008.
Tomyn said counselors were sent to both North Marion High and North Marion Middle schools Thursday.
NMHS Principal Mike Kelly said about 25 to 30 students there had received counseling and that he had addressed all the students about the crash.
So far this year, there have been 13 traffic fatalities. Of those, three were students, according to FHP.
Residents of North Marion are familiar with tragedies. Ten young people with ties to North Marion High School died in a three year span, from 2007 to 2010. Because of those tragedies, a group of NMHS students banded together to do something about the rash of senseless deaths of fellow students and graduates due to distracted driving. The student body launched a campaign called Drive for Life. Wesley Sapp, student body president, attended a statewide student government summit late last year. He also asked the other high school leaders to join forces to lobby the Legislature to require school districts to provide distracted-driving education. The Drive for Life campaign, which gets teenagers to sign pledges agreeing not to drive while distracted, has now become a statewide movement.
Kelly said that in times of tragedy, such as Thursday’s crash, the community, as well as the school, stick together and “look out for each other.”
Clarissa Billups said of the four young men, “They did everything together.”
Contact Austin L. Miller at 867-4118 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Staff writer Joe Callahan contributed to this report.
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