JENKS, Okla. – Jenks High School football players and coaches comforted each other after a 17-year-old teammate died in an accident following a rolling paintball battle on the Creek Turnpike.
Garrett Bennett was pronounced dead at the scene of the crash on Wednesday just west of U.S. 75, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol reported. The driver and another passenger of the crashed sport utility vehicle were transported to St. Francis Hospital in Tulsa, where they were treated for non life-threatening injuries.
The teenagers had just left a paintball competition for junior and senior football players when a passenger in another vehicle fired paint balls at the SUV in which Bennett was a passenger, the patrol reported. The occupants of both vehicles were Jenks football players.
The SUV Bennett was in, driven by Mitchell Hill, began to swerve as he passed the other vehicle and Hill apparently lost control, troopers said. The vehicle crossed the median and the westbound lanes of the highway, struck a speed-limit sign and then overturned several times, the OHP reported.
All four passengers in Hill's SUV wore seat belts, but Bennett was thrown out.
Hill was treated at the hospital and released, but Jacob Laptad, 18, was kept overnight for observation. Luke Hill, the 19-year-old brother of the driver, declined treatment at the scene, the OHP reported.
"I have seen a lot of horseplay over the past years, but I think this is the first time I have ever seen somebody playing paintball at 75 mph," patrol Lt. Pete Norwood said.
Football players and coaches met at their locker room after the fatal crash, said Tara Thompson, director of communications for Jenks Public Schools.
Counselors will be at the Jenks High School Counseling Office on Thursday, she said.
"Our prayers and hearts go out to the families right now at this tragic time," Thompson said.
Offensive line coach David Alexander said the 6-foot-1, 245-pound Bennett had been projected to start at center this fall, the beginning of what would have been his senior year.
"Garrett grew up in the Jenks system," Alexander said. "He was your typical Jenks football player. His whole life was Jenks football."
Isaac Norman, who graduated from Jenks High School this year and was a teammate of Bennett's, said they were good friends.
"He was just a great guy," Norman said. "He was always laughing and smiling, and he was very athletically talented."
Norman said he has talked to a few football team members and that they are all in shock.
"He didn't deserve what happened today. ... He didn't deserve to die this early," Norman said. "You want to have fun; you do something and don't think a lot of it, and you don't really think of the consequences until something like this happens."
Tulsa resident Eric A. Davis, 17, was the driver of the other SUV and was not injured. Brad P. Regal, 17, of Tulsa, and Keith Mefford of Jenks, who was passengers in Davis' vehicle, also were not injured.
Law officers may have to bring criminal charges against students who have lost a friend, Norwood said.
Lt. Phil Guest said Oklahoma Highway Patrol regional fatal crash investigators are continuing to look into the accident.
"We will be conducting other interviews. The final report will be handed over to the district attorney," Guest said.