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2 Oak Park students, one the 'best basketball player,' another 'full of life,' die in crash

Kalea Hall Ariana Taylor
The Detroit News

Oak Park — JaQai Garrett made a pact with his best friend, Cameron Tower, to play basketball this season for Oak Park High School. 

Garrett, 16, was the "best basketball player" Tower, 17, said he'd ever seen. Garrett, though, won't be be playing basketball in his senior year. He and DeRell Blackmon died after a car they were riding in with four other Oak Park students was involved crash in Southfield on Friday. The four other teens survived, one with critical injuries, police said Sunday.

Nakeia Garrett, right, hugs her cousin, Erica Barting, during a vigil at David H. Shepard Park in Oak Park on Sunday. Six Oak Park High School students were involved in a car crash Friday. Two students died, including Nakia Garrett's son, JaQai.

The vehicle carrying the six teens rolled over at 24300 Telegraph near 10 Mile. The Southfield Police Department is investigating the crash and did not release the names of the students, but family and friends during a vigil Sunday afternoon identified the two students who were killed. 

JaQai Garrett was one of two Oak Park High School students who died in a car crash Friday. Four other students were injured, one critically, police said Sunday.

Oak Park High School wrote in a Facebook post on Saturday that it also would not immediately release the names of the students or details of the injuries out of respect for the families. The school provided support counseling for families, students and staff Saturday afternoon.

About 100 people attended the gathering Sunday at David Shepherd Park on Church Street to honor the students and console their families.

Garrett's mother, Nakeia Garrett, received hugs from person after person at the vigil. Her son, she said she learned, was a friend to a lot of people. 

"I didn't know how much he was loved, how much he's already missed, how much he touched people in their heart, like it's genuine," she said. "He forever gonna be in their hearts and minds ... they can be old and gray, and he's still gonna have an impact on everybody."

The spirited senior at Oak Park High  was outgoing and liked to offer hugs. He would give someone the shirt off his back, stand by his friends and never let anyone put tell him who to be, his friends and mother said. 

"He had his own mind frame," Nakeia Garrett said. "He knew what he was and what he wanted to do and he don't back down for nobody."

He was a rapper with his own YouTube channel and planned to pursue music more after he graduated. He was going to celebrate his 17th birthday on Friday, the same day as the birthday of his grandfather, James Hardy.

Friends and family gather during a vigil at David H. Shepard Park in Oak Park on Sunday after six Oak Park High School students were involved in a car crash in Southfield and two died.

"The family is devastated," said Hardy, 64, of Novi. 

Hardy told the crowd of mostly high school students "to understand that once they start doing adult things, they have to act responsibly. A 3,000 pound car is just like a gun."

Blackmon's friends said he was goofy, reliable and full of life.

"He was always friends with everybody. He made everybody laugh," said MeKayla Samuels, 16, a senior at Oak Park. 

If Blackmon's friend, Kae'la Taylor, also a senior at Oak Park, was in a bad mood, he would cheer her up, Taylor said. 

"He would lighten the mood quickly," said Taylor, 17. "He was just a light-spirted person. He was my best friend."

Tower still is reflecting about how Garrett "was there for me every day." He was someone whom he called a friend since middle school. Basketball brought them together, so Tower plans to keep the pact he made with his friend, "just for him."