Tuesday, December 20, 2005

I thank God that He let me know Derek

I will always remember Derek. Few students touched me the way that he had. I pray that his witness continues to grow, even after his death. Thank you, Derek, for ALWAYS making me laugh after a long and tiring school day. You were one of the best.

Crash victim, 14, recalled as fun-loving, reliable
Carrollton: Teen faces manslaughter charge in wreck near R.L. Turner
12:00 AM CST on Tuesday, December 20, 2005
By BRANDON FORMBY and MARISSA ALANIS / The Dallas Morning News
Derek Elizondo was a fun-loving and popular teen who always tried his best to put a smile on people's faces.
As family and friends grappled Monday with his death, Carrollton police arrested the teenager they say was driving a pickup that flipped and ejected Derek from the bed. Six others were injured in the one-vehicle accident near R.L. Turner High last week.
"All he wanted to do was have fun," said Brandon Butler, 16, who had been friends with Derek since middle school. "It's just going to be really different without him."
Danny Joe Williams, 17, of Farmers Branch faces one count of manslaughter and three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, all second-degree felonies. Mr. Williams was being held Monday at Carrollton city jail. His bail is expected to be set today, police said.
Witnesses said Mr. Williams was speeding and swerving as he drove westbound on Cox Street on Dec. 12. Six teens were riding in the back of the truck, which is illegal for those under 18, police said. Some of the students in the truck were hitching a ride from the school to an athletic workout facility.
"God sends people to show us lessons," Herbert Bonilla, Derek's friend and a fellow football player, told WFAA-TV (Channel 8). "Anybody can learn from this lesson not to jump on the back of a truck."
Derek, 14, who suffered head injuries in the accident, died Sunday night. His viewing will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Christian Center Assembly of God, 13505 Josey Lane in Farmers Branch. His funeral will be at 1 p.m. Friday at the church.
To his coaches, Derek was a talented athlete with an extremely likable and dependable nature. Head wrestling coach Greg George said Derek had placed first in a duals tournament at a wrestling competition Dec. 10 at Lake Highlands High School. The coach said Derek had won eight of nine wrestling matches.
"It's just a shame to lose a young life like that," Mr. George said. "It's very tragic."
Head freshman football coach Gary Qualls called Derek an enthusiastic and reliable young man.
"He started on the 'B' team as a second string cornerback and ended up on the 'A' team in the last three games of the season, leading the 'A' team with three interceptions," Mr. Qualls said.
He spoke fondly of how Derek never missed his daily morning ritual known as "Coach's Corner" in which athletes could greet coaches and discuss anything.
"He was always there shaking my hand," Mr. Qualls recalled. "I could count on Derek every morning to come by and shake my hand with a smile on his face."
Mr. Qualls said that Derek was passionate about the ROTC program, of which he was a member.
In an interview with WFAA-TV, Derek's mother said it had become apparent how many lives her son had touched.
"My baby had more friends than what we actually realized. I mean there are many we didn't know," Marie Simpson said. "We knew a lot of them, you know, I mean, there's just so many more people coming out that we didn't realize were there."
On Monday, crisis counselors were available to help students, who are in the middle of final exams. Counselors were sent to the high school and Vivian Field Middle School, where Derek was a student last year. The counselors also will be on site today.
Angela Shelley, spokeswoman for the Carrollton-Farmers Branch school district, said the schools are working with students who are unable to take final exams because of the tragedy.
"Their emotional health is more important now," Ms. Shelley said. "We're doing everything we can to help those kids. We're a family, and we've got to take care of our own right now."
After the accident, Derek's personal Web site turned into a spot where people could receive updates on his condition. Word of his death Sunday night spurred teens to post heartfelt messages on Xanga.com, a popular site that hosts blogs.
Derek's father told WFAA-TV that he knows he'll have a difficult time adjusting to the loss of the son he was so close to.
"I know I can say that I am very proud to have been his dad and still am," Art Elizondo said.
WFAA-TV reporter Brad Watson contributed to this report.
E-mail bformby@dallasnews.com
and malanis@dallasnews.com

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