ST. PETERSBURG — Lakewood High School principal Erin Savage has never planned a candlelight vigil. But this week, Savage must learn how to do so as her school mourns the tragic death of one of its graduating seniors.
Bryson Welton-Williams, 18, died Tuesday within sight of the school when the car he was driving crashed into a tree near 54th Avenue S and 16th Street. Two other 18-year-old seniors were also injured.
Ramcharan "Trey" Lattimore crawled from the wreckage and was released from the hospital on Wednesday. His family declined to comment.
Joshua Heath, who had to be extricated from the car, was upgraded to serious condition. Police said he suffered internal injuries and remained in intensive care at Bayfront Health St. Petersburg.
The school wants to hold a vigil for Welton-Williams but "we don’t know what to do," Savage said of her inexperience planning a memorial. She also doesn’t want to conflict with the family’s plans to mourn their son.
The crash took place 22 days before graduation next month. This is also senior week.
Somehow the principal must figure out how to mourn one senior while keeping the rest moving forward. The senior picnic is Thursday. Prom is Friday. Grad Bash at Universal Studios Florida in Orlando is on Saturday.
Maybe, she thought, the vigil could be held Thursday after school.
"I would like if we could pull it together for (that) night, before prom," Savage said. "There’s no good time. Next week, we have three activities every night.
And how will the school honor Welton-Williams when graduation takes place on May 16, at Tropicana Field? She’s still figuring that out.
"I am going to try to do a moment of silence and then maybe at his seat, put his cap," Savage said. "All of this is just stuff that has popped into my head over the last 24 hours, but I have to run things by his family."
Wednesday after school, a group of students gathered around a memorial of stuffed animals, flowers and a handwritten sign on white poster board that read, "Rest in Peace, Bryson."
Isaiah Sheeley was among those who stood next to the tree trunk, it’s side gouged by the Toyota Corolla that slammed into it just after 2 p.m. on Tuesday, minutes before classes finished for the day.
"We wanted to pay our respects," Isaiah said of his friend. "He was funny. He was nice to everybody."
Carlos Cornejo, 16, wore a sweat shirt with the image of the dead student on the back. "He was funny," Cornego said. "He was smart."
Like many students, Janadia Fowler, 16, said she found out as she got out of school, the crash scene and emergency vehicles visible from campus. She saw Bryson’s friends crying.
"We didn’t hear it at all," she said, noting: "My friends, we were just saying how life is really short and that it can change in an instant."
St. Petersburg police said speed was a factor in Welton-Williams losing control on Tuesday. Records show he has a Florida identification card, but no driver’s license. Police looked into the possibility that a second vehicle may have been involved but said it likely played no role. Investigators are waiting for toxicology results, but do not believe impairment contributed to the crash.
The Pinellas County School District sent eight grief counselors to the school on Wednesday. Students met with them in the school’s media center, but there was a request for counselors to meet directly with the sixth period art class attended by all three students involved in the crash.
"We sent an administrator, guidance counselor and two grief counselors," Savage said. "That was a hard one."
The principal said she didn’t know Bryson — part of the 259-member senior class — that well. But she knew of him.
"He was very respectful" and had good manners, the principal said. "I heard kids talk about him. They said he was funny. He was very popular. He was a good kid, from a good family."
At the school Wednesday, signs advertising yearbook sales lay on the ground along a path to its main entrance, and the marquee congratulated the girls’ track team and told of upcoming steel drum and jazz band concerts.
"We are going on with everything as planned," Savage said. "We recognize that some students may wish to opt out, but we want to try to continue on with as much normalcy as possible."
Times senior news researcher Caryn Baird and staff writers Josh Solomon and Devin Rodriguez contributed to this report. Contact Waveney Ann Moore at [email protected] or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.