For the second consecutive year, Harlem High School is beginning its school year with grief counselors helping students deal with the loss of a classmate.
Former Harlem student Alex Inglett, 17, died Tuesday night after the car he was riding in veered off the road, flipped and rolled over him. Police say the driver, Tommy Neal Greer, 48, of Bugg Road, Grovetown, left the scene without calling for help and later was found intoxicated at his home.
"I don't know what we can do to slow these kids down or get them to think about who they are getting in the car with," said Vernon Collins, Columbia County's deputy coroner, who pronounced Alex dead at the scene.
A day earlier, Collins handled an accident that killed Aleisha N. Lee, 19, on Otis Way, a private gravel road in rural Columbia County near Harlem.
The Harlem High student, like Alex, was a passenger in a vehicle when it wrecked.
Aleisha died when a Camaro driven by 17-year-old April Ficklin swerved off the road and landed upside-down in a small creek, authorities said.
The school system's psychological services department was on standby Wednesday to help students grieving for Alex and Lee, counselor Ed James said.
He said counselors set up a display in the school's common area Thursday with a book of remembrances to help students express condolences and concerns that will be sent to the families.
"One of the greatest advantages of being in a small school is the fact that you know everyone, and one of the disadvantages is anything bad that happens affects all those at school," Harlem-area school board representative Roxanne Whitaker said. "Harlem is one large family."
Friends and family of Lee and Alex visited the accident scenes Wednesday to pay respects and leave tokens of condolence.
But Collins said he is not sure if the memorials will help prevent future tragedies.
"This is totally out of hand," he said. "What else can you do? They have people come in and talk to them when they have these grief counselors. They put up crosses on the side of the road. They go there and leave poems and teddy bears and stuff. It seems like they walk away and forget it all."
The recent fatalities bring the total of Columbia County students and former students who have died in the past year to 10. Most have died in vehicle accidents.
Amber Russell, 12, (left) and Amber Routh, 13, stop to look at the items that were left at the site where their friend and neighbor Aleisha Lee died Monday night.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
The beginning of Harlem High's 2002 school year also was marked by a tragedy.
Whitaker said last week's fatal wrecks have opened old wounds of the death last year of Andrew Hawkinberry, 8, who was killed in an automobile accident Sept. 13 on Interstate 20 as his family was headed to Greene County to see Andrew's older brother lead the Harlem Bulldogs on the football field.
"We really haven't healed from Andrew and to have to go through this again, not once, but twice in two days," she said. "This coming so close to the start of school, all you think is, 'Gosh, I hope this is not reflective of what the school year's going to be like."'
Aleisha, a junior at Harlem High, enjoyed all sports, especially basketball, her mother, Diane Germany, said of the quiet and caring young woman.
"She was loved by many people," she said.
Aleisha's friend Lisa Dietzel Daniel said the two referred to each other as sisters. She remembers her best friend as a stubborn, determined tomboy who put her friends first.
"For nine years, she has been a part of our family, and I have been a part of hers. No matter where she went, I went, and where I went, she went," Daniel said. "She always said she was going to graduate high school no matter how many years it took her. She was going to graduate and get a good job.
"She never did anything wrong to anybody. I guess they were joyriding. It is just not fair that just having fun, you can lose your life."
Patsy Gunnoe said she will miss her great-nephew, Alex, who was a "very smart, brilliant," young man with a natural charm about him.
"He had these dancing blue eyes," she said. "He had a good personality. He could pretty well work through you."
Alex attended Harlem through part of his junior year last year and spent a few weeks at Crossroads Academy, Gunnoe said, adding that Alex did not enroll this year.
Collins said that in the past year, he has informed more parents of their child's death than vice versa.
"You get in a car with somebody, you are putting your life in their hands," he said. "The parents need to know where their kids are, who they are with and what kind of driving skills these folks have."
Timeline: Columbia County has seen the loss of several students and former students during the past 12 months:
A tribute to Aleisha N. Lee is on Harlem Middle School's spirit rock.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
* Sept. 13 - North Harlem Elementary School third-grader Andrew "Little Hawk" Hawkinberry, 8, was killed in a car crash on Interstate 20 in Warren County as his family was driving to see his brother's football game.
* Sept. 25 - Evans Elementary School kindergartener Morgan Danielle Beverly, 5, died when she was run over by her father's work truck.
* Oct. 5 - Evans High School junior Holly Spivey, 16, and her parents died in a house fire.
* Feb. 28 - Lakeside High School senior Brandon Layton, 18, was killed in a traffic accident on River Watch Parkway when the driver of a Toyota Camry heading the wrong way in the eastbound lane crashed head-on into Layton's Toyota MR-2.
* April 10 - Two former Lakeside High School students - David Williams, 25, of Covington, Ga., and Candace DeChiaro, 19, - died from head and chest injuries after the BMW Williams was driving veered off Frontage Road before hitting a minivan.
* April 15 - Greenbrier High School juniors Shane Williams, 17, and Daniel Hall, 16, died on Ashmore-Barden Road in Lincoln County while traveling to a golf tournament. Brother Michael and Matthew Barman, also Greenbrier students, survived the accident, when Shane, the driver, veered off the road and crashed into an embankment.
* Aug. 18 - Harlem High School junior Aleisha N. Lee, 19, drowned after the car she was a passenger in, driven by April Ficklin, veered off Otis Way near Harlem and flipped over into a small creek.
* Aug. 19 - Former Harlem High School student Alex Lee Inglett, 17, was crushed after the car he was a passenger in, driven by Tommy Neal Greer, swerved off Wrightsboro Road into a cornfield, where it flipped, ejecting and rolling over Alex.
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