By Ed Brock
Brett Rochester gave his Lovejoy High School football teammate Darren Brooks a casual good-bye just before Brooks went to pick up three friends for a quick run to McDonalds before school Monday.
"I was like, see you later, man," Rochester said.
A short time later, Rochester and the other students at the school learned that Brooks, 16, and one of his passengers, 15-year-old Justin Phillips, had been killed in a head-on collision with a school bus.
Two other passengers, Kenneth Colvin and Armonne Gallow, both 15, were seriously injured and taken to Atlanta Medical Center, Clayton County police spokesman Capt. Jeff Turner said. They were still in critical condition as of Monday evening.
The bus driver, Rebecca Holloway, was taken to Southern Regional Medical Center with minor injuries.
Turner said Brooks was driving a 1998 Pontiac Sunfire toward the school on McDonough Road around 8:25 a.m. when his right tires apparently went off the road. Brooks, who had received his driver's license earlier this month, over corrected and swerved into the path of the bus which had no passengers. The driver had just dropped off students at the high school and was headed to the county bus barn.
Speed may have been a factor in the crash, Turner said.
"They probably were pushing it, trying to get to school on time," Turner said.
Because there were no skid marks at the scene police could not determine how fast Brooks was going, but the impact was strong enough to demolish the front of the bus and twist its rear axle.
Parts of both vehicles were scattered over a wide area with the bus remaining at the point of collision and the remnants of Brooks' car on the shoulder 20 to 30 feet behind the bus.
Turner said the teens had been seen at McDonalds just before the accident. Bags and wrappers for the food they bought there were scattered around the car.
None of the passengers in the car were wearing seatbelts, Turner said, and one of the passengers was thrown from the car.
News of the accident moved students and teachers to tears.
"Especially for Darren because he was so sweet," 16-year-old Tanisha Calhoun said. "He was excited about having his driver's license."
Calhoun and other students stopped by the accident scene after school Monday.
"I feel sorry for all the parents who love their children," said 17-year-old Jeremy Jones who played basketball with Brooks. "None of them were over 18."
A crisis team was in the school all day, Acting Deputy Superintendent of Schools Bill Horton said, and members of the school board planned to visit Colvin and Gallow in the hospital.
Lovejoy Principal Mike Duncan posted a letter to the parents of all students at the school regarding the accident. In the letter, Duncan urges the parents to talk to their children about the accident.
"If they seem to need to talk, answer their questions simply, honestly and possibly over and over again," Duncan wrote.
Lovejoy football coach Al Hughes said he brought Brooks' jersey and helmet to the teen's parents who plan to bury the apparel with Brooks.
"We are going to meet with the football team privately to counsel them," Hughes said.
Hughes described Brooks as a "model citizen" who always had a smile on his face.