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Fort Mill student dies in vehicle accident

Clifton Carter was the "spark" his club soccer teammates needed when they were down.

Now, his teammates and coaches are down because of Carter's absence.

Carter, 15, died Tuesday morning in what officials are calling an unusual and tragic one-car accident near his Fort Mill home.

"When we were down, we'd look to him to give a spark of energy," said his Discoveries Soccer Club coach Dominic Wren. "He certainly provided that in an abundance. He gave his all every time he put on the jersey."

Carter, a Fort Mill High School sophomore, died in a one-vehicle accident near his Marshall Street home that was "a result of very unusual and tragic circumstances," Fort Mill Police Capt. Bryan Zachary said in news release.

Carter's parents called authorities after discovering the accident around 6:30 a.m. Tuesday. The 15-year-old was found pinned between a tree and his truck, York County Coroner Sabrina Gast said. She said she's not sure how long he had been stuck.

Carter apparently was not operating the vehicle at the time of the accident, Zachary said. Few other details are being released as an accident reconstruction team investigates.

Carter loved to play soccer for the Discoveries 95 Green Premier boys team and for the Fort Mill High School Yellow Jackets.

Discoveries teammate and Northwestern High School student Julian Welborn said he was saddened to learn of Carter's death.

"He was a really good teammate. He'd do whatever he could to make us better," said Welborn, 15. "I don't think we'll be the same without him, but now we'll play a lot harder for him because he's gone."

Wren said Carter's enthusiasm and work ethic helped him make plays "he had no right to make."

"He didn't have the God-given ability of Enzo (Martinez, the former high school soccer All-American at Northwestern), but he had the absolute 100 percent focus when he put on his cleats," said Wren, who coached Carter for about three years. "He had an enthusiasm and passion for the game that was often unrivaled in the club.

"He'd go on to the field, one thing I could never say is give me more. He had a great passion for the game. He was an inspiration to his teammates."

A distraught Principal Dee Christopher told reporters that it was the first time in his six years leading Fort Mill High that the school had lost a student during the academic year.

"Our school is broken-hearted about this tragic accident," Christopher said. "We want Clifton's family to know we loved him."

"He loved soccer. He loved coming to school. He loved being a Yellow Jacket."

As a junior varsity soccer player, Carter was a standout, Christopher said. Last spring, he was moved up to varsity during the playoffs and got a lot of time on the field.

"That doesn't happen often ... for a player coming up," Christopher said.

Nick Schuermann said Carter was a huge leader "verbally and play-wise" for the junior varsity team and earned his spot on varsity.

Schuermann coached Carter as an assistant for the Fort Mill team and taught him soccer skills in his back yard, babysitting him and his sister. Carter was so dedicated to his team that he bowed out of a spring break beach vacation to compete in a tournament with the varsity team, and he gelled with the older players instantly.

"He was a coach's dream," Schuermann said. "You can't say enough nice things about him. He was so full of energy. The second he walked in the room, you couldn't help but notice everyone else had a little more energy, too.

Carter played soccer since he was young, Schuermann said.

"These past couple years (Carter) just made phenomenal strides," he said. "He was a great player with a promising future. Always the hardest worker on either side of the ball.

"He was always full of life and ready for adventure. He always wanted those around him to be in a good mood."

Counselors, who were scheduled to be at an event Tuesday in Rock Hill, were called back to school at 7:30 a.m., and counselors from other Fort Mill schools came to help comfort students.

They met in groups and individually with students. The school also allowed many students to be dismissed early.

"It's a sad day for the Fort Mill school family," said district Superintendent Chuck Epps. "By all accounts, Clifton was a great kid with a bright future.

"We're all saddened, especially for the family," Epps said.

An autopsy will not be performed, Gast said.

Herald reporter Shawn Cetrone contributed.