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High speed factor in crash that killed teens, Southfield chief says

Ariana Taylor
The Detroit News

Southfield — As an investigation into a Friday car crash that killed two teens and injured four others continues, Southfield's police chief says high speed was a significant factor.

Chief Elvin Barren said Monday at a news conference that witnesses describe the vehicle the Oak Park High School students were in was traveling at more than 100 miles per hour and changing lanes frequently.

"I do want to make a plea to the community, a plea to youth, our young adults who are driving. Certainly driving is a very exciting time but driving comes with a huge responsibility ... a responsibility to slow down. Not only your life is at risk but the lives of the occupants of the vehicle, the general public, and also first responders," Barren said Monday.

The six students who were in the car were all 16 or 17 years old. The teens were in a Cadillac SRX, with one passenger sitting in the hatch of the SUV, Barren said. 

Just after 9 p.m. Friday, the SUV struck a curb. That sent the vehicle airborne and down into a wooded area. The SUV flipped over multiple times, striking a tree, and eventually landing on a fence as it caught on fire. 

Barren said four of the passengers were ejected 10 to 15 feet from the vehicle and two passengers were still in the SUV trapped under a tree. 

JaQai Garrett and DeRell Blackmon were killed in the crash. Among the survivors, one was in critical condition and three were in stable condition, Barren said.

Nakeia Garrett, right, hugs her cousin Erica Barting during a vigil at David H. Shepard Park, in Oak Park, Sept. 20, 2020. Six Oak Park High School students were in an SUV that crashed Friday night. Nakia's son JaQai, was killed, as was another teen in the vehicle. Four others were injured.

"We just want to support the families; they're part of our community, our heart bleeds and we love them and we want a speedy recovery for those who are in the healing process," said Oak Park police chief LaDon Reynolds.

First responders arrived at the site within minutes while residents who saw the crash tried to assist the passengers before help arrived. 

Barren said drugs and alcohol do not seem to be involved in the incident; however, a search warrant has been issued to test the blood of the driver. 

Charges may be issued after the investigation is complete, Barren said.

"This accident will be treated as any other accident resulting in death, where we will prepare a warrant request to the Oakland County Prosecutor's Office for a charging decision," Barren said. 

Preliminary investigation shows that seatbelt misuse or non-use may have been a factor as well. 

Oak Park High School is offering grief counseling Monday afternoon. 

On Sunday, family and friends held a vigil for JaQai Garrett and DeRell Blackmon, the two who died in the crash. About 100 people attended the gathering at David Shepherd Park on Church Street to honor the students and console their families.

Garrett's mother, Nakeia Garrett, received many condolences 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."