FLORENCE — The mood around Central High School was somber Tuesday morning as students arrived and learned about the death of a classmate.
“This is not an easy situation,” Central Principal Ryan Harrison said. “It’s a sad time for our school. Our students and our school are hurting right now.”
Da’santo Vonte “Tae” Ingram, 13, a seventh-grader at Central, was killed when he was struck by a hit-and-run driver Monday night.
State troopers said the wreck occurred about 7:30 p.m. outside Ingram’s house at 251 Lauderdale 457, which also is known as Hendrix Road.
The man accused of driving the 1984 Chevrolet truck that hit Ingram has been identified as James O’Neal Wilson, 42, 1305 Sunnyside St., Florence. He is in the Lauderdale County Detention Center, charged with felony leaving the scene of an accident with injuries or death.
Harrison said Ingram had been a student at Central for five years.
“I knew him. He was a great kid,” Harrison said. “I was talking with a teacher (Tuesday) morning about Tae and she was telling us how hard a worker he was.
“Tae was a very smart student, and he worked hard to make good grades.”
Harrison said he held a short assembly for the seventh grade Tuesday morning to talk about Tae’s death.
“We had counselors and local youth ministers here to meet with seventh-grade students to discuss the incident or talk about anything they needed to,” Harrison said. “We’re trying to help them accept the fact of what happened. And there is no blueprint on how to do that.
“I told (the students) we are here for them and will be here for them and do all we can to support them and help them get through this.”
Emergency personnel at the scene Monday night said the truck was eastbound on Hendrix Road when it topped a hill and ran off the road, hitting the boy.
Friends of the family said Ingram was taking the garbage out when he was struck.
Markings of the accident left at the scene by troopers indicated the truck ran off the road before striking the boy. Officials said the impact knocked him 30 to 35 feet. He was found next to a tree in the yard.
“My wife and brother found him,” neighbor Tim Brown said.
Brown, a member of the Underwood-Petersville Volunteer Fire Department, said he talked with the boy Monday afternoon.
“I was taking one of our fire trucks to the Fire Prevention Parade (in downtown Florence) and he talked about going and riding on the truck but we already had several kids going with us,” Brown said. “I wish now I had taken him.”
Brown said he was at the parade when his pager went off. When he saw the address, he quickly assumed something had happened at his house.
“It scared me to death,” he said.
Brown said he finally got through to his wife, who told him Ingram had been injured.
“When I got here, they were leaving with the ambulance,” Brown said.
Ingram was taken to Eliza Coffee Memorial Hospital in Florence, where he died at 8:28 p.m., according to hospital officials.
“When I heard that Tae had died, I went to the ground. I was in tears. It was like losing one of my children,” Brown said. “He played with my children, he was over here all the time. Just a great kid. I feel for the family.”
Florence police located Wilson on Industry Street about 9 p.m. Monday.
The charge is a Class C felony and is punishable by 1-10 years in prison if convicted.
“We are continuing to review (this case),” Lauderdale County District Attorney Chris Connolly said. “We have gathered some forensic evidence, including a blood test we took from the suspect (Tuesday morning).
“The evidence and the blood test will be sent to the forensics lab. Once we get the results back, we will make a decision on further charges.”
The district attorney’s office placed a hold on Wilson, who will remain in the detention center.
Brown said he hopes this will make people traveling on Hendrix Road slow down and realize there are children living on the road.
Hendrix Road is a connecting road between Alabama 157 to the Underwood Dixie Youth ball fields.
“There is a lot of traffic through here, especially when the ball games are going on,” Brown said. “And people fly through here. I don’t think people consider what could happen. But it can and it did last night.”
The accident remains under investigation by state troopers at the Quad-Cities post.
Tom Smith can be reached at 256-740-5757 or tom.smith@TimesDaily.com.