South Panola High School students returning after Easter break to school today were to have counselors and ministers available to help them cope with the death of one of their own.
SPHS football player Jay Brandon Cox, a 17-year-old sophomore, was killed Saturday night in an auto accident that also claimed the life of his passenger, Tommy Young, 16, also of Batesville.
Young recently completed his work-study program at the district’s alternative school, said its principal Sara McCulloch.
Cooley’s Mortuary in Batesville is in charge of services for both young men. Arrangements were incomplete at press time.
Tommy was the son of Tommy Strong and Rosephine Young, both of Batesville, and Brandon was the son of Edna Cox, a spokesman at Cooley’s said.
Brandon and Tommy were involved in a three-car accident at 9:46 p.m. on U.S. Highway 51 about one mile north of Batesville near the Tallahatchie River bridge, said Lt. Andy Shackelford of the Mississippi Highway Patrol.
Details of the crash were not immediately available as Shackelford said the investigation is not complete.
Trooper Dennis Darby, who worked the scene, is being assisted in the investigation by Trooper Peter Clinton who is an accident reconstruction specialist, Shackelford told The Panolian.
The 1990 Buick in which Cox and Young were driving came to rest upside down in about seven feet of water in a bar ditch about 100 yards south of the bridge, said Batesville Fire Chief Tim Taylor.
One rear wheel and a portion of the bumper were visible when fire rescue personnel arrived on the scene, Taylor said.
One of the victims was pulled from the car while the auto was still submerged, Taylor said. The other victim was trapped and his body could not be freed until the car was pulled out of the ditch.
The drivers of the other vehicles were identified by Shackelford as Stanley Wilson (no age available) of Sardis, who was driving a 1986 Chevrolet, and Amber Jackson, 22, of Crowder, who was driving a 1986 Toyota.
Shackelford said those drivers were unhurt.
Del Phillips, SPHS principal, recalled Cox with fondness as he talked about the student.
"Brandon was a great kid," Phillips said. "I never saw Brandon in the office, he made good grades and I never saw him doing anything other than what he was supposed to do."
Phillips said he had talked with some of the school’s football players over the weekend who were mourning the loss of their friend.
Brandon was a sophomore starter on the team and was the kick-off man.
"We’re all hurting," Phillips said of the staff and students. "I always get really nervous this time of year and right after school starts.
"It’s not just here … these are times when the youngsters have so much energy and high spirits … they think they will live forever," he said.
Already set in place for such a time is a plan that will involve the setting up of a "safe haven" spot for the students to gather today to talk about Brandon and share their grief together.
"Students will want to know what happened," he said. "We’ll have counselors and some local ministers available for them to talk with."
He expects the students to "migrate to the people they know the best" for comfort.
"Brandon had a lot of friends … especially other members of the football team," Phillips said. "They are coming around and getting together."
Principal McCulloch also remembered Tommy as one of her better students.
"He was as sweet as he could be," she said. "He wasn’t a minute’s trouble. I don’t think I ever had any disciplinary dealings with him unless it was right after he first came and I asked him to tuck in the back of his shirt."
Before Tommy finished at the school about two months ago, McCulloch said he participated in the work-study program.
Because he didn’t have transportation to work in the community in the afternoon, she said he volunteered to stay at the school and work as a janitor.
She said Tommy had returned to Batesville after a stay in St. Louis where he had had some "run ins" there with gangs.
"He’d come in my office and we’d talk," she said. "He’d say, ‘Ms. McCulloch, I want to be straight. I have to wear [gang] colors to keep from being beaten up."
McCulloch said Tommy had been a beating victim here "three or four times."
While it is something many don’t want to admit, McCulloch said there are gangs in Batesville. Gangs, she said, that are affiliated with gangs in St. Louis and Chicago.
"There’s evidence of it here," she said. "We have gangs. I have boys coming in and crying about it in my office."
She said Tommy fought against the gang influence even to the point of "slipping me a note" to let her know about someone or something going on at school that wasn’t right.
"He had worked hard to turn his life around. He was a good kid … and I’ll never forget that smile he had."