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Texas Tech lowers flag for students in fatal car accident

Late Tuesday morning, as crowds of students hurried by, a flag flew low on the Texas Tech campus.

A simple paper placard, mounted in a permanent frame, explained why.

“On this the 2nd day of September, 2014, Texas Tech University displays our flag at half staff in memory of Tucker Brantly Arnold,” it read.

Days later, the frame would hold a new placard. And then another.

Arnold, 18, who was killed in a South-Central Lubbock car accident in August, is one of five Tech students who died before the start of fall classes this year. According to custom, Tech flies the university flag at half-staff in honor of deceased students, faculty and staff.

“It’s definitely been a somber start to the semester,” university spokesman Chris Cook said.

The flag will fly at half-staff Thursday for Dalton Debrick, 18, who was found dead Aug. 24 after a party at a 36th Street home. It will again be lowered Monday in honor of Joshua Coates, 21, and Adam Coates, 19, who were killed along with their father, Timothy, in an Aug. 22 car accident on Interstate 10 in Arizona.

The flag will not be lowered for a fifth student, Morgan Lee, 20, who died after her vehicle collided with a Lubbock police officer Aug. 14. Cook said the university will not lower the flag because Lee had not yet begun classes at the university and was not living on campus.

According to university operating policy, each flag flown in memory of the student will be mailed to the student’s family along with a copy of his or her transcripts and a letter from the dean of students.

Elizabeth Massengale, director of parent and family relations at Tech, acts as the university’s point of contact with families of deceased students. Sadly, she said, she’s been unusually busy this year.

“I’ve been working in this area probably for the last four or five years, and we’ve never had this many in this short of a timespan,” she said.

Massengale works with the families to tie up loose ends, such as housing and financial aid, that remain when a student dies. She also works to put the family in touch with a student’s friends or roommates.

It’s been a little emotionally draining this year.

“It’s not one of my favorite parts of the job, but something I’m always pleased to do to ensure that the families are being provided with outreach and support from the institution,” she said.

The Coates brothers and their father were killed in a single-vehicle rollover at about 10 p.m. Aug. 22 just east of Willcox, Arizona, said Carrick Cook, public information officer with the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

The family was heading east on Interstate 10 when their Ford Explorer collided with the median and rolled over. None of the occupants were wearing seat belts. All were ejected from the vehicle and pronounced dead.

With all three passengers dead, Carrick Cook said it’s impossible for investigators to know what caused the car to leave the road.

“A lot of times we don’t know exactly what happened. It could have been an animal; it could have been fatigue. Unfortunately, when everybody is passed away, there’s no way to explain what happened,” he said.

Carrick Cook said it’s likely the family was traveling to Lubbock to bring the brothers back to Tech.

The Lubbock County medical examiner is still investigating how Debrick died.

Police found the Tech freshman dead after responding to a residence in the 3600 block of 36th Street at about 9 a.m. Aug. 24. A caller had reported that Debrick’s body was cold.

Homicide detectives arrived on scene, and the investigation is ongoing.

Nine hours before they found Debrick dead, police had responded to a noise complaint at the same address.

“Residents were advised about the noise ordinance violation and no further action was taken by police at that time,” according to a statement from Lubbock police Sgt. Jason Lewis.

Debrick turned 18 Aug. 18 and was a graduate of Nimitz High School in Irving. Friends and family have posted messages online since Debrick’s death, describing him as funny and happy.

“This bright and wonderful young man lost his life unexpected over the weekend while starting his first days as a grown up and a college student,” his godmother, Laura Surles, posted online. “Dalton was my godson, but he was everyone’s friend. The Debrick family needs our prayers and strength right now.”

He is survived by his parents, Danny and Debbie, and his brother, Devon.

Arnold died in the early morning hours of Aug. 19 after a series of collisions in South-Central Lubbock.

According to previous A-J Media coverage, Arnold reportedly crashed his 2014 Dodge Ram into a light pole at 60th Street and Avenue U at about 2:30 a.m., causing a power outage in the area. He continued driving north on Avenue U and struck an unoccupied Ford F150, before hitting a tree in the 2000 block of 49th Street.

He was later pronounced dead at University Medical Center.

Quetha Derryberry, senior investigator with the Lubbock County Medical Examiner’s Office, said a report revealing whether drugs or alcohol were involved in the crash is still pending.

Arnold was majoring in foundational engineering. He is survived by his parents, Gordon and Adriane.

Lee of Abilene collided with LPD Officer Cody Kidd on the afternoon of Aug. 14 at the intersection of Clovis Highway and North Loop 289.

Kidd was on his way to a non-emergency report of a suspicious person, according to previous A-J Media reports. The vehicles collided in the intersection, which is controlled by a traffic signal.

Kidd was transported to University Medical Center with moderate injuries, while Lee was transported with life-threatening injuries. She died hours later.

The case is set to be reviewed by a Lubbock County grand jury.

Source: Amarillo"Texas Tech flags fly low after five student deaths". BLAKE URSCH, September 05, 2014