From the cartoons he would scribble, to the tunes he would tap out on his desk to the twirling rifles that brought him acclaim, Brandon Keith Layton's death Friday night has left a large hole in the heart of Lakeside High School.
"He wasn't a showboat who would try to steer the spotlight toward him," said Lt. Col. Gary Engen, a Senior Army Instructor at Lakeside High School who described the Lakeside High senior as a good student, an artist, a musician, an athlete, a leader and a role model. "He would sit in the background, but when it was time for him to perform or do something he participated in, he was right up there doing an outstanding job."
Brandon, 18, of Martinez - the son of James L. Layton of Huntsville, Ala. and Kathy L. Layton of Martinez - was killed in a traffic accident, becoming the fourth fatality this year for the Columbia County school system.
The incident happened on River Watch Parkway near Furys Ferry Road about 10 p.m., when the driver of a Toyota Camry heading the wrong way in the eastbound lane crashed head-on into Brandon's Toyota MR2. Brandon was pronounced dead at 11 p.m. at the scene, said Richmond County Deputy Coroner Grover Tuten.
Brandon was active in JROTC and was named Superior Cadet of the Year in tenth grade. He was employed by Evans 12 Theatres and was a bass player in the band Shell.
Before school began Monday morning, about 200 students gathered at the school's flagpole to pay tribute to their friend.
Principal Jeff Carney broke the news to staff and students during the morning announcements. School system counselors converged on the school to help students and staff through the grieving process.
Friends also had the opportunity to express their thoughts in a memory book which will be given to Brandon's mother.
"I just left the media center where the memory book is and there are 75 to 100 kids in there now," Carney said Monday morning. "They are helping each other. It's really tough, especially on the ROTC kids, since they are such a tight-knit group. But that's the only way to get it out. That's where the school psychologists are, and they are there to help them."
After school, senior classmates Nikki Smead and Lauren Dermody drove to the scene of the accident where a blue cross had been erected as a roadside memorial. Beside the cross there were flowers, teddy bears, a bottle of Hawaiian Punch and hair gel. Brandon was known for his spiked hair which seemed to defy gravity, his friends said.
"Two more months until graduation - it's just horrible," Nikki said. "You don't expect someone your age to die."
Lauren said she was glad to have the opportunity to leave a condolence message for the family in the memory book.
A teddy bear, flowers and a bottle of Hawaiian Punch surround the roadside memorial for Brandon Layton. The Memorial Fund for Brandon Layton has been set up at Georgia Bank & Trust. Donations can be made at any branch, or mailed to Georgia Bank & Trust, 409 Furys Ferry Road, Martinez, Ga., 30907.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
"I wanted them to know they had a son who affected so many people in so many different ways," she said. "He was one of the greatest guys I knew."
Brandon participated in JROTC extra-curricular activities, including the school's award-winning drill team, color guard and Raider Challenge.
Engen can rattle off a litany of awards Brandon has received in his four years in JROTC, including best individual drill in the JROTC state championship last year. He was the third highest ranking officer in the JROTC battalion this year.
"His forte was the drill team and his ability to spin rifles and the precision fancy drill routines you see cadets do," Engen said. "He was looked up to and admired by the rest of the ROTC cadets for that ability and for his military bearing, his appearance and his marching and rifle drill ability."
The nine remaining members of his JROTC drill team will honor him with a "missing man" formation when they perform at a regional competition at Evans High School this Saturday. Brandon had performed with the drill team at a local JROTC drill team exhibition the night before his accident.
"He was a key member of the team," Engen said. "He was the co-leader and respected as having the most drill and ceremonies talent."
Funeral services were Tuesday at Thomas Poteet and Sons with the Rev. Phillip Williams officiating. Honorary pallbearers were the members of the JOTC and senior class of Lakeside High School. Interment was at Lawnwood Memorial Park in Covington.
This is the fourth time this year school psychologists have been dispatched to help staff and pupils through the grieving process.
On Sept. 13, North Harlem Elementary School third-grader Andrew Hawkinberry, 8, was killed in a car crash on Interstate 20 in Warren County as his family was driving to his brother's football game.
On Sept. 25, Evans Elementary School kindergartner Morgan Danielle Beverly, 5, died when she was run over by her father's work truck.
And Evans High School junior Holly Spivey, 16, died, along with her mother and father, in a house fire Oct. 4.
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