Newberry students among 4 killed in Waldo crash 

Newberry High School's Lawrence McClendon Jr. (18) was one of four people killed in a weekend crash in Waldo.
Newberry High School's Lawrence McClendon Jr. (18) was one of four people killed in a weekend crash in Waldo.
Photo by C.J. Gish

The Newberry community is in mourning after two teens died from injuries sustained in a weekend crash in Waldo that had already claimed two other lives.  

“It is with great sadness that I share the two Newberry High School students who were in the serious car accident this past weekend have now passed away from their injuries,” Newberry High School principal James Sheppard wrote in a Tuesday message to parents. “Thank you for keeping both of these families in your thoughts during this difficult time.”  

Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe, who teaches at the school, said grief counselors and trauma specialists have been on campus all week long.  

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“As the mayor and a teacher, I want to thank the principal for making that happen,” Marlowe said in a Thursday phone interview. “He has been a tremendous leader through a really hard time on one of our school campuses.” 

All four of the vehicle occupants were 14 to 17 years old, but Mainstreet has only been able to positively identify two of them: Jabril Chever and Lawrence McClendon Jr., both Newberry High School students.

McLendon was a sophomore defensive back for the football team, and people who knew him have posted tributes, photos and videos to social media showing him playing for the Newberry Panthers.  

“Lawrence was a great kid to be around and have in our program,” said Ed Johnson, Newberry’s head football coach. “As a football player he was competitive, talented and relentless with a knack for making big plays. He will be truly missed by everyone in the Panther football family.”

McClendon is also the brother of Jermaine Godbolt, an 18-year-old Newberry senior who was shot and killed last month.  

“It’s concerning when you have so many deaths back-to-back, but all we can do as a community is wrap our arms around each other, love each other, ask ourselves what we need to be doing, and then do it,” Marlowe said. 

According to the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP), a criminal investigation into the deadly incident is ongoing, which is why it has released a very limited amount of information. Typically FHP releases a preliminary basic report on fatal accidents, including where it happened, the ages, gender and hometown of vehicle occupants, and whether they were wearing seatbelts, but it has not released any of those specifics.  

The chain of events that led up to the accident started when the Gainesville Police Department reported a Honda CRV as stolen, according to Col. Brad Smith, chief deputy for the Bradford County Sheriff’s Office.  

“We have some surveillance cameras on the roadways that have license plate readers,” Smith said in a Thursday phone interview. “We had a positive hit that [the vehicle] was on State Road 100 heading eastbound coming towards the city of Starke.” 

Smith said a Bradford patrol unit spotted the vehicle and started following it to confirm the tag.  

“We confirmed with the Gainesville Police Department that they still had that car entered as stolen, and the officer waited until he had three backup units with him before he initiated the traffic stop,” Smith said. “They did start to pull over on the shoulder of the road, but before they came to a complete stop, they accelerated again, and that is when the chase was on.” 

Smith said Bradford County deputies stopped the pursuit when the vehicle reached the county line because their patrol cars could not keep up with it.  

“The [Florida] Highway Patrol was, at that point, the only vehicle that could actually keep up with them,” Smith said. “Our vehicles cannot match the speed that they were going, but we did continue one of our units to try and stay as close as they could as a backup unit to FHP until Alachua County’s units were able to catch up to them.” 

According to an FHP release last Saturday, a state trooper joined the pursuit and “identified that some of the occupants appeared to be wearing ski masks.” The trooper followed as the CRV exited U.S. 301 and began traveling west on State Road 24 (SR-24) in the Waldo area. 

“The Trooper made intentional contact with the Honda, causing it to decelerate,” the FHP release said. “The Trooper used the break in speed to perform a Precision Immobilization Technique (PIT maneuver) on the fleeing Honda to stop the threat created by the fleeing suspect. The Honda subsequently rolled over before making contact with a cement pole.” 

Alachua County Fire Rescue responded to the scene and described the vehicle as “wrapped around a concrete utility pole.”  

It took crews more than 90 minutes to extricate the passengers. Two were pronounced deceased on the scene, while two others were transported to UF Health Shands in Gainesville, where they later died.  

Marlowe said he’s encouraging the community to focus on what it can do inspire young people to see that they have better options.  

“I don’t want to jump to conclusions about a whole town based on a couple of incidents, but I also don’t want to give up on any child. We as a community have an obligation to look out for every single kid in our community,” Marlowe said. “I hope we get some clarity from the investigation so we can make better decisions about how to move forward and to prevent these types of events.” 

—with reporting from C.J. Gish and Mike Ridaught

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include the identity of the second Newberry student, correct the age range to 14 to 17, and add a quote from Ed Johnson.

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Ed1

This was too bad, but it is very lucky that the fleeing Honda did not hit another vehicle and kill several other people.

Bubba Gump

Maybe those pit maneuvers should be done away from cement utility poles.

Logical

Or maybe criminals shouldn’t steal cars and lead police on a high speed chase. Their parents owe the CRV owner a new car.

Lulu

That was wring of you to say that, not all 4 were driving. HOW do you know maybe the others were telling the driver to stop and pull over? Only God knows may they RIP. Please don’t judge

BillS

“I hope we get some clarity from the investigation so we can make better decisions about how to move forward and to prevent these types of events.” …Nice – but most people know not to break the law and put others in danger. At least the article was not peppered with the overused “HERO” titles. Again-glad innocent people didn’t die.

Constance

My heart goes out to all the people who loved these kids. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to lose two of my children in such a short amount of time.

Tony Smith

The officer said: ” “They did start to pull over on the shoulder of the road, but before they came to a complete stop, they accelerated again, and that is when the chase was on.”

Sorry – but I am assuming that ONLY ONE PERSON was driving the car. So, “he” accelerated again, not “they.” The story makes it seem like four people conspired to evade police. Also – police are not obligated to chase down stolen cars.

Ed Wyrwas

I feel so bad for these suffering families. I’ve worked illegally and sacrificed to raise my children as to not get involved with the wrong crowd. My dad used to say “you lie down with dogs you wake up with fleas“ two ankle monitors and ski masks. They were involved in more than just a stolen car. They certainly weren’t on their way to school or church. Parents need to be held accountable to prevent our children from going off the rails of life. Still so sad

Common sense

Lol like saying they couldn’t keep up with a prius. Something ain’t right