Fleeing accident, teen dies in wreck
By CHRIS TISCH
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 13, 2001
SEMINOLE -- It was just a fender-bender, but Jeremy Hammond looked nervous.
The Seminole High School senior stood talking with the man whose van he had lightly rear-ended. He told the man he had to fetch his wallet. But knowing his driver's license was suspended, Hammond sped off.
"I keep thinking he's going to pull up any minute," his mother, Kim Hammond, said after police told her what happened. "I wish they were wrong, I wish they were wrong."
Hammond said she had worried about her son Thursday. He was not supposed to be driving -- his license had been suspended because of unpaid speeding fines -- but she feared he was anyway.
She was at the beach with her boyfriend Thursday afternoon when she called him, but he didn't answer. She considered calling the Sheriff's Office to see whether he had been in an accident.
Her fears had been correct. Jeremy Hammond had jumped into the yellow Ford Ranger pickup his uncle had given him and had driven to get a haircut. Afterward, about 2 p.m., he was driving south in the 300 block of Seminole Boulevard when he tapped the rear of a van driven by North Port resident Kirk Carlson.
He and Carlson pulled into the NAPA parking lot to exchange information. Moments later, Hammond took off. Carlson called police but did not chase him.
Police said Hammond then sped south on Seminole Boulevard, where he shot through a red light and clipped a blue Lincoln Town Car driven by Clearwater resident Joe Vernier, who was turning left from Eighth Avenue SE when he was hit.
Vernier said he felt something slam into the front of his car. Then he looked behind him and saw flashes of yellow.
"I looked in my rearview mirror and he was just rolling, rolling, rolling, rolling," Vernier said. "He must have rolled six to eight times.
"I just wonder if he had hit me in the side, I'd be out here lying next to him," Vernier said.
The 2,900-pound truck rolled for 258 feet, police said, leaving a path of yellow scrape marks; the spinning rims dug spiral grooves into the asphalt when the pickup banked on its side.
The truck then tore through a chain-link fence. Hammond was tossed from the cab and died at the scene. He was not wearing a seat belt. If he had been, it could have saved his life, police said.
The impact knocked the teen's tennis shoes off his feet. Police covered his body with a yellow tarp just feet from his pickup, then held up white sheets to shield his body from traffic when he was removed.
Police said the young man had a bag of candy on his front seat. Police found a Seminole High School library card in his pocket.
"He made a bad decision," said Carlson, who later drove up to the scene of the fatal crash. "It's sad."
Kim Hammond said she moved to Seminole with her son and two daughters in August from Ohio. Jeremy loved the beach and riding personal watercraft.
He made friends quickly, got good grades and was scheduled to graduate in June. He wanted to attend the University of South Florida and become a chiropractor.
"He made a lot of friends," his mother said. "The teachers liked him."
She said his sisters, 17-year-old Ashlee and 16-year-old Lynzee, adored their brother. He also was close to his grandparents, who live in the area.
Seminole High School teacher Barbara Hatchman had Hammond in her honor's history class, where he did well.
"He always had a smile on his face. He was just a really nice kid," she said.
Teacher Tom Haight had Hammond in a business law class. He said the teen always sat in the front and was attentive. He got A's and B's.
"I really think this is a big loss for us," he said.
Kim Hammond said she hopes other young people will see the dangers of driving and speeding.
"Other kids need to learn from this," she said.
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