4 Claflin students die in car crash on I-77 in Columbia

By: Jordan Geddis
Oct 14, 2016

Fifth student in hospital; standing-room-only crowd gathers for prayer service

At noon on the day after four students were killed in an auto crash in Columbia, Claflin students, faculty and administration gathered for a prayer service.

President Henry N. Tisdale addressed a standing-room-only crowd at W.V. Middleton Fine Arts Center, saying, "Today's different, we come together to pray, to remember the grief of our departed Claflin University members."

Speaking of the students killed Thursday evening in an accident on Interstate 77 in Columbia, Tisdale said, "It just reminds us all we are not promised tomorrow. Let us continue to draw together, especially in times like this."

Tisdale told students to live every day with a purpose because tomorrow isn't promised. "So if you're waiting for tomorrow, why not do what you need to do today?"

Among those in attendance was South Carolina State University President James Clark.

Names of students released

Early Friday afternoon, Richland County Coroner Gary Watts released the names of the four who died as a result of a two-vehicle collision that occurred at approximately 5:45 p.m. Thursday on I-77 between mile markers 22-23 in Columbia. All four were Claflin students

* Melvin Lonell Jackson, Jr., date of birth 05/31/1995, of Roundtree Circle, Chester, was the restrained driver of the vehicle. An autopsy indicated that Jackson died from multiple trauma to his body.

* Darrell Renard Pendergrass, date of birth 08/21/1995, of Rosenwald Road, Society Hill, was a restrained front-seat passenger in the vehicle. An autopsy indicated Pendergrass died from multiple trauma to his body.

* Keeron Q. McElveen, date of birth 11/18/1997, The Hole Road South, Kingstree, was an unrestrained rear-seat passenger and was ejected from the vehicle. An autopsy indicated McElveen died from multiple trauma to his body.

* Jamarius Kel'Shawn Bruce, date of birth 09/09/1997, of Logjam Drive, Darlington, was an unrestrained rear-seat passenger and also was ejected from the vehicle. He was transported by Richland County EMS to Palmetto Health Richland Memorial Hospital, where was taken immediately into surgery. He died at 10:50 p.m. in the STICU. An autopsy indicated Bruce died from multiple trauma to his body.

All four were sport management majors at Claflin.

According to Claflin, a fifth student, Gernardo Cato, a freshman from Goose Creek, remains in a Columbia hospital.

The S.C. Highway Patrol is investigating the incident.

Claflin statement earlier Friday

A car accident Thursday evening, Oct. 13, 2016, on Interstate 77 in Columbia left three students dead and one other seriously injured, Claflin University announced Friday morning.

All have been identified as Claflin students, though the names are not being released by the Richland County Coroner’s Office until the family members have been notified.

The injured student is in the trauma unit at a hospital in Columbia, according to the Claflin announcement.

"We are hurting and are saddened to hear about the untimely death of three of our students. I call upon the Claflin family to draw closer together and remain strong as we try to comprehend the loss of these members of our Claflin family,” President Henry N. Tisdale said. “Our prayers are also with the families and friends who are connected with the accident victims and with the student who is still in the hospital.”

Counseling services are available in Corson Hall and in the Chaplain’s Office. The chapel will remain open for reflection and prayer.

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