ST. PETERSBURG — Caps and gowns were in the future for Bryson Welton-Williams and his two friends.
Then came Tuesday’s horrific car crash.
The three 18-year-old Lakewood High School seniors drove off from school a few minutes early, just 22 days away from graduation. But then the Toyota Corolla they were riding in veered off the road and struck a tree.
The driver, Welton-Williams, died at the scene.
The two other teens, Joshua Heath and Ramcharan "Trey" Lattimore, were badly injured in the crash and taken to Bayfront Health St. Petersburg for medical treatment.
"It’s definitely going to change our graduation," said Lakewood Principal Erin Savage. "Graduation day will be different without (Welton-Williams), who is very well known."
Savage said she heard about the crash just before 2 p.m. She received a radio call that several students had been in an accident right off school grounds. So the principal and other personnel raced from the building out to the street.
Just yards from campus, they found a black Toyota Corolla, its passenger side wrapped around a tree in the grassy median on 54th Avenue S, just west of 16th Street.
The students left school and were driving west on 54th Avenue S, police said, when the car drove off to the left. Police couldn’t say what caused Welton-Williams to lose control, but investigators are looking into the possibility that a second vehicle may have been involved.
One of the teens managed to crawl from the wreckage. The other surviving teen had to be extricated from the car.
Heath was reported to be in critical condition late Tuesday. Lattimore was reported to be in serious condition.
"They’re my babies. I love them," Savage said in front of the school, the wreck sitting across the street. "I’ve been here for three years. I’ve known all three of them for three years.
The crash reverberated across the student body. Lakewood High’s dismissal is scheduled at 2:05 p.m., so as students poured out of the building they saw the wreck. Many spent up to an hour huddling together outside the crash scene.
One of them was Zach Wiseman, 15, a sophomore and offensive lineman on the school’s football team. He said Welton-Williams’ younger brother is a wide receiver on the team.
Zach said Lakewood High’s football coach, Cory Moore, held a team meeting in the cafeteria before practice. The coach’s message, Zach said, was that players should cherish the time they spend with their loved ones.
"Basically, (he) just talked about how, one moment everything’s good, and then the next moment something like this can happen," the 15-year-old said. He said the team’s "thoughts and prayers" are with the family of the student who died, and that the coach cancelled football practice that day.
"We decided we couldn’t focus on football right now," Zach said. "This is more important than that."
Lakewood’s graduation is set for May 16 at Tropicana Field. Savage said crisis counselors would be at the school to speak to students first thing Wednesday morning.
"We’re a very close-knit community … it is very sad," the principal said. "One promising life is gone and the other two will be changed forever."
Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or [email protected] Follow @ByJoshSolomon.