RINCON — John DeRing was hundreds of miles away but his heartbreak was evident in Effingham County.
DeRing, a former South Effingham High School head baseball coach now in Ohio, learned that Jake Sapp, one of his former players, was killed in a fiery traffic accident Saturday morning in Pulaski County.
"It's just awful," DeRing said via telephone Sunday. "It's never good when somebody passes suddenly but, God Almighty, Jake was getting ready to join the real world. He was fresh out of high school."
Sapp, a 2018 graduate, died when the 2017 Ford Transit he was travelling in collided with a Hino box truck. He and the Transit's other two occupants, Rincon's Brian Ricker and Jeffrey Stites of Clean Ducts LLC, were pronounced dead at the scene by the Pulaski County coroner.
DeRing's memory bank is loaded with fond recollections of Sapp.
"Jake was an absolute blast to coach," DeRing said. "The biggest things that he brought to the ballpark everyday are that he was there and he was going to have a good time. He always kept us loose."
Sapp's fun-loving demeanor didn't detract from his competitiveness.
"I think his leadership ability was kind of under the radar," DeRing said. "A lot of the young kids looked up to him. And to top it off, he was a good baseball player."
Sapp led by deeds, not words.
"One thing that comes to mind is him hitting a pop-up against Richmond Hill last year," DeRing said. "They dropped it and it fell between the pitcher's mound and where the second baseman plays. Lo and behold, Jake was standing on third base.
"He went hard out of the box and didn't stop. He didn't even look for my signal coming from second (base) to third (base). I just looked up and — boom! — he was there. He was an impact baseball player.
"Without saying, he was a great young man. We had a ball coaching him. When he got on base, he had the ability to wreak havoc."
DeRing expressed deep sadness for Sapp's parents, Keith and Lori.
"They are wonderful people," he said. "His dad was an integral part of the booster club and just one of those guys that loved South Effingham baseball and was going to keep loving it even after his son was finished playing there."
The Georgia State Patrol is investigating Saturday's crash. The driver of the other vehicle, Adam Soles of Jacksonville, Fla., was transported to Medical Center, Nacient Health with serious injuries.