In sea of prom dresses and tuxes, grief invades
Dunedin teenagers recall a junior who died.
By ALISA ULFERTS AND JONATHAN ABEL
Published May 6, 2007
CLEARWATER - A group of Derek Teele's friends each wore one of his T-shirts under their tuxedos to the Dunedin High School prom Saturday night.
The gesture was a simple, cotton tribute to the friend they had lost the night before in a car accident on U.S. 19.
"About six or seven friends came over, and they each took a shirt to wear to the prom and something small to put in their pocket, " said Teele family friend Omega Kreidler.
"All day long we've been answering the phone, talking to his friends, " Kreidler said.
Teele, a 17-year-old Dunedin High School junior, was killed Friday night when the Jeep Cherokee he was driving flipped several times. He and four friends had been headed to a Devil Rays game.
One of those teenagers, 18-year-old Brandon B. Sarnick of Dunedin, remained in guarded condition in the intensive care unit at Bayfront Medical Center on Saturday. The others had injuries that weren't life-threatening. Brieanna Rae Chisholm, 16, of Spring Hill remained hospitalized at All Children's Hospital in stable condition, and Rachel L. Tate, 15, of New Port Richey was not listed in current hospital records.
The fourth passenger, Eric W. Evans, 17, also a student of Dunedin High School, was well enough Saturday to go to the school prom, where Teele was on the minds of many students.
Saturday night, at the Harborview Center in Clearwater, classmates reacted to news of Teele's death.
Evans arrived at the prom in a dark blue shirt and black pants. A white bandage on his hand and a wince were the only outward signs of the crash.
"Last I remember, we were driving, weaving in and out, " he said. Then the wreck.
Evans got six stitches on his right hand and bruises from the seat belt. He said he was the only one wearing a belt.
Saturday night, he came to the prom with the youth pastor from First Presbyterian Church of Dunedin, where he and Teele were members.
The two friends had been planning to come to the prom with their girlfriends, Chisholm and Tate, respectively, but Teele got in trouble with his parents and the prom plan was canceled.
On Saturday night, however, Evans heard there was going to be a memorial so he stopped by on the way to see Chisholm in the hospital.
Principal Paul Summa said that no memorial was planned for the evening, though grief counselors were available for anyone who needed them.
The school of 1, 900 students has suffered a severe strain this year, Summa said. A few months ago, a student died. Then in the past 10 days there have been three bomb threats, causing tremendous disruptions. And Friday brought the fatal accident.
"Canceling the prom would have added to the stress, " he said, but Summa said early Saturday evening that a number of students might not come because of the tragedy.
For those who knew Teele, the prospect of a prom without him didn't hold the same luster.
"He's the most outgoing person I've ever met, " said Elizabeth Wozniak, 17, who dated Teele briefly a few months ago. "We all gathered around yesterday, and it was clear it was hard to change prom, but we could do something to remember him."
She and her friends marked their hands with a red No. 2, Teele's baseball number.
Even people who didn't know him well said it was hard to come to the prom so soon after wreck.
"It's very sad seeing someone around the hallways of school every day; then in a split second they're gone, " said Stephanie Ventriere, 18. "Almost it turns into everyone coming together to have a good time and enjoy life itself - and his life."
Family and friends said Teele was known for his megawatt smile.
"His mom said his purpose in life was to make people smile, " Kreidler said.
"He was enjoying high school and enjoying the moment - just an all-around American kid, " she said.
Teele was a major sports fan, said Debbi Howells, another family friend.
"He loved sports. He was very social, always had a girlfriend. He liked to play video games. He did a lot of stuff with his dad, " Howells said.
Teele is survived by his parents, Bob and Lisa Teele, and his sister, Danielle. Funeral arrangements are pending.