A fiery early morning crash Sunday left four USC Upstate student-athletes dead, one injured and families, communities and the school campus reeling.
Greenville native James Campbell was one of the victims. A J.L. Mann graduate, Campbell is remembered as a caring young man with a heart for others.
“People just loved to be around him,” said Mike Hepola, pastor at Brookwood Church, where Campbell and his family attended and where the teenaged Campbell was a frequent volunteer.
“Beautiful smile. Great character. A real loving personality.”
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Through his high school and college years, Campbell was also a star soccer player, helping to lead the J.L. Mann Patriots to two state championships.
“He was one of the best soccer players I had the pleasure to coach. Great kid. Great attitude,” said Karl Cassida, the former head boys’ varsity coach who coached Campbell for two years.
News of Campbell’s death and those of fellow student athletes rippled through the USC Upstate community Sunday.
“You hear about what happened yesterday, and then you wake up today and hope that it’s a bad dream,” said school spokeswoman Tammy Whaley. “So many people are going through the motions, but they’re also gathering, trying to console each other. It’s a tough day today at USC Upstate.”
A candlelight vigil was held Monday night at the soccer stadium to honor the victims.
The others killed in the crash were Joshua Lee, 20, of Spartanburg; Sarah Vande Berg, 21, of Zephyrhills, Florida; and Horace Miller Sproull IV, 20, of Birmingham, Alabama, according to Spartanburg County Coroner Rusty Clevenger.
Sproull was a soccer teammate of Campbell’s; Lee a cross country runner and Vande Berg a tennis player.
“The student-athletes are extremely close,” Whaley said. “They regard their teammates and their fellow student athletes as family.”
Lee, a 2013 graduate of Broome High School, was a junior majoring in physical education.
Vande Berg, a senior, was recruited to play tennis as a Spartan and is remembered by her friends as a happy person.
Families described the students as always having a smile, as loving life, she said.
Athletic teams were brought together Sunday night to support each other in grief, and counseling services were made available.
A fifth passenger, also a USC Upstate student athlete, was injured in the crash and is in stable condition at a Spartanburg hospital, Whaley said. A native of Sweden, the woman has been supported by her teammates and coaches until her parents arrive.
The vehicle was traveling on Fourth Street, near State 9, in Spartanburg around1:45 a.m. Sunday when it left the road, struck a tree and caught fire, according to Lance Cpl. Gary Miller of the Highway Patrol.
“These four young students who lost their lives were extremely vital to our campus community. They were loved by so many people,” Whaley said. “These students will forever be remembered.”
The phrase #SpartanStrong, originally coined as a support for the school’s athletic teams, has expanded over the last two days to embrace the victims and the school community as a whole.
Bows and ribbons in the school’s signature green are showing up around campus, and social media overflows with shows of solidarity.
“It shows the strong spirit that we have as a campus community, that the students have for one another,” Whaley said. “It’s bigger than we are. We have support coming from all over the Upstate community, from all over the state.”
The school has made counseling services available to students and faculty and has worked with local clergy to provide additional support. Officials plan to hold a local memorial service in the coming days.
Scott Halkett, USC Upstate assistant soccer coach, said members of the close-knit team were coming together to support one another and tell stories about their lost teammates.
“It’s devastating,” he said. “They want to get through this by celebrating their lives.”
Campbell, who was 21 at his death, was the oldest of four children. He graduated from J.L. Mann in 2013, according to a statement from USC Upstate, and played soccer at Marshall University for two years before transferring to USC Upstate at the start of 2015.
Both Cassida and Hepola told stories of his generosity of spirit, whether caring for a special needs student who was being shunned or helping a new teammate overcome an uneasy beginning.
“James was one of those players who brought him in under his wing and basically protected the guy and put a little bit more confidence in him,” Cassida recalled. “He was willing to do that with somebody he barely even knew right off the bat.”
“He was a top-notch guy,” said Charlie Mayfield, J.L. Mann High principal.
A memorial service for Campbell is scheduled for 4 p.m. Wednesday at Brookwood.
“All of us are just shaken by what’s taken place, but we know that his life is going to make a lasting impact,” Hepola said.