Effingham County High School staff, students and administration are coming to grips with the death of another student from an automobile accident.
William O’Dwyer, 16, was killed on his way to school Wednesday morning when the car he was in was struck by a tractor-trailer. A Chrysler 300 traveling northbound on Highway 21 was attempting to turn left onto Highway 119 about 8:05 a.m. Wednesday. The car turned into the path of a tractor-trailer headed south on Highway 21, according to the Georgia State Patrol.
Sheila O’Dwyer, William’s mother, was taken to Memorial Health University Center in Savannah with injuries stemming from the accident.
After news of the accident reached ECHS Principal Yancy Ford, he gathered the rest of his administrators and counselors and informed them of what happened, instructing them they needed to be supportive of the students “because they’re going to take this very hard,” he said. “And they did.”
The driver of the semi, Benjamin B. Hines of Soperton, was not hurt in the wreck.
O’Dwyer’s death was the second of an ECHS student in the last two weeks. Seven students or recent graduates have died in the last year and a half.
“We took it from this feeling that there’s this dark cloud hanging over us and why are these bad things happening to the students and families of our school,” Ford said of the staff’s approach. “We spent the better part of (Wednesday) with our kids. We had a lot of support from other schools, a lot of support from parents, a lot of support from pastors and churches, just providing support for our kids and allowing them to talk to counselors, adults and other students.”
Ford said he noticed kids talking and hugging each other at the end of lunch Wednesday and opted not to ring the bell to signal the start of the next class period, so students could spend more time together.
“If it took us a little longer to get to class, then we were going to take a little longer to get to class,” he said. “We were going to spend some time together.”
Sheila O’Dwyer, a former Effingham County Sheriff’s Deputy, worked security at many ECHS sporting events. William, a junior at the school, was a standout in Donna Holder’s art class. He was also in the gifted program.
“He was a really uplifting kid,” Ford said.
ECHS will have an assembly this morning as Ford meets with each grade level, and each class will meet with local pastor Bob Lefavi.
“It will take the kids through the whole grieving process, how to handle it and what to expect,” Ford said. “It will let them know that all those different emotions that come with grieving are normal.”
Ford said they will speak with the students about sticking together and staying with their dreams.
“Tragedy is going to happen and adversity is going to occur in our lives. We’re going to have to be resilient and help each other through it,” Ford said. “That’s what as a staff we’re trying to do. We’re trying to be resilient for our kids and help our kids through this process. We’ve got some kids who are very resilient and I’m so proud of them for the leadership they showed (Wednesday) and the willingness to step out and be of support to other kids in need.”
A group of teens hastily gathered Wednesday evening at ECHS to pray for and over the school.
The deaths have taken a toll on the school and has left some to wonder how much more the campus can take.
“I don’t know,” said Michael Lane of Grace Community Church, who led Wednesday night’s prayer session. “I don’t know.”
“It’s hard to see everyone so broken up about it,” said Courtney Lane, an Effingham County High School student and one of those taking part in Wednesday night’s prayer. But I know that God is good, and that’s what matters.”
After gathering a large prayer circle, attendees broke out into smaller groups to pray at different areas of the school.
“He knows we can handle it,” Jessica Brown, an ECHS student, said in speaking of God. “He is with us every day.”
Michael Lane called for continued prayers for the school and the community.
“The only thing that we can do is to pray,” he said, “pray for protection, pray for God’s hand of favor and we need to pray for healing.”
Georgia State Patrol Sgt. Ruffin said he ran into fog on his way to the accident scene but does not believe fog was a contributing factor to the accident. Charges may be pending in the accident.
“We are interviewing witnesses to confirm our theory of what happened,” he said.