By Brandon Ward
and Terri Ferguson Smith
Many members of the Clarkdale community in the southwest part of Lauderdale County are in mourning after an accident on Tuesday afternoon took the life of another teenager. Accidents have now killed four young men from that community in four years.
Chief Deputy Ward Calhoun said Samuel Johnson, 13, was killed after his four-wheeler, which was being towed by friends, collided with a pick-up truck heading south on the 5000 block of Causeyville Road.
"There was a jeep traveling with a four wheeler behind it that was attached by a winch cable," Calhoun said. "As they approached a bridge there was a pickup truck coming south bound. As the jeep slowed the four wheeler veered in the south bound lane striking the front driver's side of the pickup truck."
Calhoun said Johnson was taken to a local emergency room and was declared dead sometime later.
Deputies believe Johnson's four wheeler was not working properly so friends came to his aid by towing him to have the ATV repaired.
Calhoun said there is no evidence of foul play in the accident.
"It is certainly a tragic accident we will continue to investigate in terms of finishing paperwork but there is no reason at this point to believe there is any kind of foul play in this incident," Calhoun said.
The driver of the pick-up truck was also taken a local hospital for injuries that were non-life threatening, Calhoun said.
Reacting to his death on Wednesday, many who knew Johnson all said the same thing: he was a happy kid who was nice to everyone.
Amy McMillan has known him all his life.
"He would always come up and hug. He always told everybody that he loved them. He was just one of those that everybody loved," McMillan said. "He's a one of a kind."
Johnson's death has hit the community hard, McMillan said.
"He may have had a bunch of friends, but all their parents loved him too," McMillan said.
McMillan said Johnson was wise beyond his years. His death serves as a painful reminder to a community that has now lost four young men in four years, all to auto accidents.
Micah Redmond, 18, died in September, 2012. A month later his friend Adam Long, 22, died. In April, 2013, the Clarkdale Community lost Dylan Mabry, 17, to an accident.
It isn't easy to deal with so many from such a small community, she said.
"I think they just kind of lean together. When Micah died — that's my best friend's nephew, that's what she said to do, to 'Lean on each other.' Be there for each other. That's how we got through Micah, Adam, and Dylan," McMillan said.
Breanna Ivey, 17, is among Johnson's cousins. She said she hopes her cousin will be remembered for his ability to make others happy.
"He was somebody that anybody could look up to and go to for advice for like church — and in sports, he was an amazing athlete. I could really see him going far in his football or baseball career," Ivey said. "I think he would have been a great role model for kids when he grew up. Everybody loved Sam. If you were mad, you just go to talk to Sam and he would make you happy somehow. He was like a class clown and everything."
Ivey was also related to Redmond.
"It's kind of tough. It's hard going through all this because me and Micah were cousins; me and Dylan were in the same grade," Ivey said. "I think all of that together makes the Clarkdale family closer together. We're all, like, here for each other now. We've been through all this."
Chet Nicklas had known Johnson since he was a toddler. As the Youth Minister at Goodwater Baptist, where Johnson attended, he worked with him in the church's youth group. A tragedy such as this, he said, is further indication of how short life can be. He knows his youth group has been affected by the number of accidental deaths in the community.
"They've really been through a lot. I've never seen four people in this short amount of time from one school," Nicklas said. "It's hard to deal with, especially when they've had to do it over and over again."
Dr. Roy McNeill is principal of Clarkdale Middle School and knew Johnson well — but he knows most of his students well, it's a small school.
"The Clarkdale situation is a little different than other places because we're so very small. We have kind of a village or family atmosphere anyway," he said.
McNeill said if school were in session now, they would offer counseling to students, but since school has dismissed for the year, members of the community will come together in different ways.
"Like any family at a time like this, we will be going out of our way to be in prayer for everybody and be supportive and celebrate Sam's memory," McNeill said "When we start school next year, it's a wound that will be opened afresh for us because we'll start without Sam."
Counseling will be available then, if needed, he said.
"Because we're such a small school and such a family atmosphere, we're going to deal with this situation the way anyone would deal with a loss in their family, we're going to hold on to each other tight, love each other as best as we can," McNeill said.
McNeill said Johnson was a talented athlete in football, baseball and basketball.
"He did well in his classes," McNeill said. "Anytime he went anywhere he represented us well. We will greatly miss him."
McNeill said the community will pull together.
"At a time like this all we can do is love and support one another and stay in prayer that we will never have to experience another one," McNeill said.