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Norcross community copes with tragic loss

Photo: David McGregor                    Classmates of Johlonda Lindsey show emotion while they pray before the start of a candle light vigil in the honor of Lindsey on Sunday evening in front of Meadowcreek High School on Sunday evening in Norcross. Lindsey, a student at Meadowcreek died in a car wreck shortly after midnight on Steve Reynolds Blvd.

Photo: David McGregor Classmates of Johlonda Lindsey show emotion while they pray before the start of a candle light vigil in the honor of Lindsey on Sunday evening in front of Meadowcreek High School on Sunday evening in Norcross. Lindsey, a student at Meadowcreek died in a car wreck shortly after midnight on Steve Reynolds Blvd.

NORCROSS -- Riding in a car with his friends Saturday night on the way to a post-prom party at TGI Fridays, Evonte Cephus heard a sound "like a blown tire" in the highway up ahead.

"We stopped our car immediately, and we got out and saw the wreckage," said Cephus, 18, a Meadowcreek High School student and friend of the late Johlonda Lindsey.

Cephus said he and his friends started calling names to see who was OK. "We were shouting, trying to get them to respond," he said. "(Johlonda) was the only one whose voice we didn't hear."

The young man fought back tears as he recalled Saturday night's surreal scene where Lindsey, a 16-year-old junior at Meadowcreek, died around midnight Sunday as she and three other students were headed to a party after Saturday's prom.

Lindsey and another passenger were ejected onto Steve Reynolds Boulevard after the Trailblazer they were riding in reportedly swerved to avoid hitting a car in front of it. The car veered into oncoming traffic and was hit by a Ford Freestar, driven by Freddie Banks, according to a police report.

The report stated that Dejon Wideman drove the Chevy Trailblazer that crashed and that speed was a factor. He left the hospital on Monday and was later arrested on a vehicular homicide charge with bond set at $67,200. As of Tuesday night, he remained in the Gwinnett County Jail.

According to school officials, Wideman, 19, is a sophomore at Meadowcreek and Banks is a senior there. Two other passengers, 15-year-old Colleena Walker and 16-year-old Kendrea Walker, were also hospitalized after the crash, as was Banks.

Meadowcreek students, teachers and administrators were saddened this week by the tragedy, said Assistant Principal Adrienne Wiley. "We're doing our best right now," Wiley said. "It's a hard situation."

Principal Tommy Welch said it was indeed "a tough time" and asked the community to keep the school and victim's family in their thoughts and prayers.

Following the late-night tragedy, about 200 students, faculty members and others from the community came to the high school for a vigil on Sunday, while others left memorials where the incident occurred at Steve Reynolds Boulevard.

Track Coach Kevin Crawley, who had helped oversee the young girl in her athletic endeavors, said the vigil was a "very emotional" time for Lindsey's friends as well as her fellow track teammates.

As a track star, Crawley said, Lindsey was "on the brink of stardom."

She broke several records recently at the school for the 400-meter relay and the 800 sprint relay. "She was really about to be a breakout athlete," Crawley said.

Crawley said when people remember the young girl, they'll likely recall "her loving spirit ... when people befriended her they had a friend who would really stick up for them. She was the kind of person that always made you feel good to be around her. She knew how to make a person feel better."

Crawley added that friends of Lindsey are "doing their best to get through it."

School Board Chairman Louise Radloff, who visited the vigil on Sunday, said she was impressed by the "overwhelming support" of those who showed to mourn the loss.

"What I witnessed was the kids there with candles, crying, hugging, loving, and I was blown away by the attitudes and resolve of these students," Radloff said.

The tragic loss of Lindsey's life extended beyond the walls of Meadowcreek.

Bereaved community members visited the scene of the crash this week. Norcross residents Mike Harris and wife, Trina, drove their car up onto the curb and parked beside the memorial just inches from skid marks on the highway.

Tears rolled down Trina's cheeks as cars sped past on the busy road. The husband hugged his wife as they placed a small candle at the makeshift memorial site.

"It hurts the community to see a life lost like this ... so young," said Trina, a friend of one of the victim's families. "All you can do is just pray and hope they can get through it."

Jorge Quintana, a spokesman with the school district, said that Gwinnett County Public Schools sent a team of 10 counselors and social workers to the school upon learning of the tragedy. The counselors spoke to several classrooms and were on hand to console anybody who wanted to talk.

Visitation is scheduled 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday at Gregory B. Levett & Sons Funeral Home, 914 Scenic Highway, Lawrenceville.

The funeral is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday at New Mercies Christian Church, 4000 Five Forks Trickum Road, Lilburn.

Comments

GwinnettGirl 2 years, 3 months ago

The heartbreak Johlanda's family is suffering is devastating, and the driver will have to live with the fatal consequences of his actions forever, just as Johlanda's family will forever miss and grieve for her. However, there is no such thing as a perfect parent, nor a perfect teenager. Even though good responsible parents do their best to instill high morals and values, there can be times when a teen gets caught up in the moment, and caution & common sense are nowhere to be found. Teens just don't believe anything horrible would or could happen; they think they are invincible and that bad things happen, if at all, to others, not to them. They have no sense of reality when all of a sudden they're with a group of friends and bad choices are made. It is so unfair, so tragic that this happened at all. For this to make any difference, maybe prom goers should be made to watch a video of what can truly go wrong during prom weekend and have Johlanda's death teach others a valuable lesson. As parents we do our best, yes, we should check with the parents of those our child will be going out with, we should do all the things that will hopefully keep our kids safe, but ultimately, some things are out of our control. Good parents have kids that make mistakes, sometimes fatal ones, and some irresponsible uninvolved parents have kids who just seem to sail through life without problems. Being the parent of a teenager is unimaginably difficult; it takes alot of hope, prayers, diligence, consistency and love. We give our kids the maps and the directions, but sometimes they follow the wrong path. So sad when a teen loses a life and those left behind are left to mourn for the rest of their lives. A moment can change a life, can end a life, and teens just don't see the reality of that. How can that be changed???

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LilburnLady 2 years, 3 months ago

My question is how were two passengers ejected from the vehicle? Were they wearing their seatbelts? There is no way to know exactly what goes through a teenagers brain in a situation like this. They were, I'm sure, happy, excited and having a great time with their friends. The problem is, a teenagers brain is still not completely developed and no matter how many times they have been told to put on their seatbelt, not speed, pay attention to the road, etc., there comes a moment when emotion completely overrides their normal thought processes and they take risks that they know they shouldn't take.

Unfortunately, this type of tragedy has been happening as long as there have been teenagers driving cars and it will continue to happen in years to come. It's tough to raise teenagers. They want freedom so badly and especially in the case of an outstanding young woman like this one, you think, "she's a good kid, she's excelling in everything, she should be able to go out and party with her friends". I do sincerely hope that some good comes out of the loss of this young woman's life. I hope her parents can use this tragedy in some way to teach other kids and possibly save other lives.

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