Clinton College officials are “devastated” by the Saturday bus crash in North Carolina where two of their students were among four people with area ties who died in the horrific crash in which more than 40 were injured.
An 8-year-old boy from Rock Hill and the bus driver, who is from Chester, also died, police said.
The crash happened around 2:30 p.m. Saturday near Hamlet, N.C., according to the State Highway Patrol. A 1993 charter bus was traveling east on the U.S. 74 bypass when the front left tire blew, causing the bus to go out of control and veer into the median, troopers say. The bus struck a median guardrail before sideswiping a concrete bridge column.
The bus was traveling from Rock Hill to Fayetteville, N.C., to participate in a scheduled football game Saturday night against the University of God’s Chosen, the Highway Patrol said. Both eastbound and westbound lanes of the U.S. 74 bypass were closed nearly 10 hours after the crash.
The National Transportation Safety Board has sent two investigators to North Carolina to look at the tire and what might have caused the crash.
The bus was carrying the Ramah Juco Academy football team, which is composed of players from several schools, Clinton officials confirmed. Ramah bills itself on its website as a program to allow students who made mistakes academically to have a second chance through athletics.
Killed in the crash were the driver, 43-year-old Brian Andre Kirkpatrick of Chester; Clinton College students Devonte Gibson, 21, of Rock Hill and Tito Hamilton, 19, of Pahokee, Fla; and Darice Lamont Hicks Jr., 8, of Rock Hill.
‘A loss for this community’
Gibson and Hamilton were both Clinton College students, said Elaine Copeland, president of the school.
“We as a school community are devastated,” Copeland said.
Hamilton, a 6-foot-3, 300-pound offensive lineman, helped lead American Heritage School in Palm Beach County, Fla., to the 2014 Class 3A state championship game, where it lost to Jacksonville-Trinity Christian.
Gibson, who played football while attending Northwestern and graduated in 2012, was “a great kid,” said William Cureton, a Northwestern assistant.
“So many people in Rock Hill are just heartbroken over the news of these deaths and all those injured,” Cureton said. “We as a community are in mourning, and we all need to do whatever we can do to help the families.”
Jimmy Wallace, head coach at Northwestern when Gibson played, described him as “a fine young man.”
“This crash is a loss for this community,” Wallace said. “I am just heartbroken.”
Driver died doing what he loved
Family members of the driver, Kirkpatrick, were gathered at his home in Chester on Sunday afternoon. His sister, Mieko Kirkpatrick, said he had been driving charter buses for several years.
“That’s what he loved doing,” she said. “He just loved going. He’d do for anybody.”
Kirkpatrick, 43, left behind a wife and two children, ages 14 and 17, his sister said. When he wasn’t driving buses, he liked working on cars and cooking, and was involved at Sandy River Baptist Church, where he sang in the choir.
“They’re maintaining,” Mieko Kirkpatrick said of the family. “They’re maintaining.”
It remains unclear who owns the bus. June Barnette of Rock Hill, owner of June’s Tours, said he sold the bus a couple of years ago to a group and knew Kirkpatrick from other functions where drivers would gather.
“The whole community of motor coach drivers, bus drivers – we are all broken-hearted,” Barnette said.
‘He’s like the protector of people’
Darice Lamont Hicks Jr., 8, was traveling to Fayetteville with his father, who is part of the coaching staff of Rahma Juco Academy, according to family members.
Darice was in the third grade at Ebenezer Avenue Elementary School, his mother, Courtney Hicks, said Sunday. He loved animals and sports, and could always be counted on for a hug or a kiss.
“He’s like the protector of people,” Courtney Hicks said. “He always cared and wanted to help everybody.”
Courtney Hicks said lasagna was one of her son’s favorite foods, and that he liked baking with her.
“He’s a ball of energy,” she said. “Non-stop, all day. My baby.”
Darice was in the gifted and talented program at Ebenezer Avenue. His great-great-aunt, Lorraine Hicks-Glover, called Darice “ a super child” and “smart as a whip.”
“He would always say words that he didn’t know how to pronounce,” said Jasmine Hicks, Darice’s older sister. “When he was little, he used to say, ‘You’re activating me, you’re activating me!’ But he meant, ‘You’re aggravating me.’”
Hicks-Glover said that Darice’ father, Darice Lamont Hicks Sr., was helping to coach the team and was on the bus as well. He suffered a broken arm and other injuries and is at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, Hicks-Glover said. Additionally, Darice Lamont Hicks Sr. was a mentor to Devonte Gibson, one of the Clinton students who died, said Hicks-Glover.
“The young man was just here at the house last week after our sister passed,” Hicks-Glover said.
Monday classes canceled at Clinton College
Forty-two other people were transported to area hospitals with injuries that ranged from minor to critical, troopers said. Although information on the other passengers remains unclear, Clinton officials believe about half of the 47 people on the bus were Clinton students.
“We talked to one student who is just traumatized by what happened,” Copeland said.
The Rev. Maurice Harden of New Mount Olivet AME Zion Church near the campus, who is Clinton College campus chaplain, called what happened a “terrible tragedy.” He said pastors and others from many AME Zion churches in both Carolinas, including all the way up to the bishops of the church, rushed to help the families and those affected Saturday and Sunday.
Harden asked for community-wide prayers.
“We will need your help, and your assistance,” Harden said. “This is a time when so many people are hurting, and what we all can do is pray for them, and also act for them in any way they need. We need the community to lift us all up through prayers.”
Clinton College, a historically black college that transitioned from junior college to four-year school in 2013, is located on Crawford Road in Rock Hill and is home to about 200 students.
The American Red Cross sent grief counselors to the school Sunday to assist students and staff in dealing with the aftermath of the crash. Clinton already has decided to cancel Monday classes.
“Our hearts go out to all involved, and we remain ready to assist all those involved,” said Archinya Ingram, Clinton vice-president for business and finance.
Grief counselors will be on hand Monday at Ebenezer Avenue Elementary School and Northwestern High School, according to Mychal Frost, a Rock Hill School District spokesman.
“As is the case in any family when someone passes, we are extremely heartbroken,” Frost said Sunday. “This is indeed an awful tragedy, and our heartfelt condolences are extended to their families and the families of Tito Hamilton and Brian Kirkpatrick.”
Rob Copeland, Clinton vice president for student affairs, said the football team was not affiliated with the school, but had many students on it.
“We are here to help all our students and staff deal with this event,” Rob Copeland said. “We are helping students, but we all here are still totally in shock.”
Clinton’s top leaders will hold a cabinet meeting about the status of the incident, then address the student body in a student assembly Monday morning, Rob Copeland said.
The Charlotte Observer’s Karen Garloch contributed.
Statement from Clinton College Vice-President Rob Copeland
“The Clinton College family is mourning the passing of two of our students in a tragic bus accident near Rockingham, N.C. 9/17/16. During the brief time that we have had these young men, they have become entrenched parts of the Clinton College family.
We appreciate the outpouring of support from our local community as well as nationally. Our biggest priority is to offer support to our traumatized student body, faculty and staff. We ask to do that in private.
The local Rock Hill Red Cross will be here to aid the college 9/18/16. Classes will be canceled 9/19/16 for all students and counseling will be available at that time.
Please keep the families and friends of these two young people in your prayers and continue to pray for the college.
Robert M. Copeland
Vice President for Student Affairs