2 Daleville High School seniors die in wreck;community loses two of its best and brightest

A group of Daleville High School students met at a spot on Old Newton Road Monday night. They hugged each other and held hands and prayed for the families of the classmates they lost Saturday in a one-vehicle wreck. Daniel Sean Gambino, 17, son of Roy and Deirdre Gambino of Daleville, was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident, which occurred between 2:45 and 2:52 p.m. on Old Newton Road. Darrah Lauren Grant, 17-year-old daughter of Mike and Gina Pitts of Daleville and Carl Grant of Little Rock, Ark., died several hours later at Flowers Hospital. Also injured were Robert Jones Jr., 17, driver of the Ford Ranger pick-up truck, and Erin Urinoski, 17 , both of Daleville. They were treated at Flowers Hospital and later released

A group of Daleville High School students met at a spot on Old Newton Road Monday night. They hugged each other and held hands and prayed for the families of the classmates they lost Saturday in a one-vehicle wreck. Daniel Sean Gambino, 17, son of Roy and Deirdre Gambino of Daleville, was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident, which occurred between 2:45 and 2:52 p.m. on Old Newton Road.

Darrah Lauren Grant, 17-year-old daughter of Mike and Gina Pitts of Daleville and Carl Grant of Little Rock, Ark., died several hours later at Flowers Hospital.

Also injured were Robert Jones Jr., 17, driver of the Ford Ranger pick-up truck, and Erin Urinoski, 17 , both of Daleville. They were treated at Flowers Hospital and later released.

Daleville police said the cause of the accident is still under investigation. The Alabama State Troopers have been called in to assist in the investigation. A funeral mass for Gambino was to be today at 11 a.m. at the Fort Rucker chapel. A local service for Miss Grant was conducted Monday afternoon at Daleville High School. She will be buried in Kennerly Cemetery in Monnie Springs, Ark.

Daleville High School Principal Andy Kelley described Miss Grant and Gambino as excellent students at the top of their class, involved in many extracurricular activities and well-loved not only by students but teachers and other faculty members as well.

"Daniel Gambino was a better man at 17 than most men are at 30," said Sgt. Jerry Sapp of the Daleville Police Department, who teaches the DARE (Drug Awareness and Resistance Education) program in Daleville Schools. Gambino was a DARE role model last year, volunteering to talk to younger students about how to resist the temptation of drugs and alcohol.

Born in Georgia, Gambino had lived in Daleville for the past seven years. He was senior class president, executive officer of the JROTC battalion and a member of the Drama Club, track team and the National Honor Society. "He was also looking forward to being on the first DHS soccer team," Kelley said.

Gambino was ranked third in his senior class and was likely to have become a class valedictorian.

As SGA president, Gambino addressed the student body each morning on the school intercom system, leading students in the Pledge of Allegiance.

"He was every mother's dream for a son-in-law," said JROTC instructor Joe Guthrie. "He was bright, personable, mannerly, respectful and responsible. He had a focus on what he wanted to do in life. He would have been a fine officer."

Gambino had applied to the U.S. Naval Academy and was planning a career in the military. Teacher Lester Nichols said Gambino had set a goal and was following the road to reach it. "His head was set in the clouds and the stars and the sky," said Nichols.

"Daniel's dream was to become a Naval aviator," said friend Patrick Merriss. "He wanted those wings. He once promised a friend of ours who wants to go into the Army that he would watch his back from the sky." Merriss said Gambino was accustomed to watching out for his friends. "He was always there when you needed him and always looked out for others," said Merriss. "The ironic thing is that Daniel has the blessing of fulfilling both his dream and his promise to his friends."

Gambino's teachers and fellow students also remember him as dedicated to those around him, but they also remember a witty young man with a dry sense of humor. Sapp said Gambino could be "hilarious."

With a smile as he recollected moments with the teen, Kelley spoke of Gambino's wit and his maturity.

"He always did his best and he did it with a good attitude," the principal said. Gambino played guitar for the choir of Our Lady of Loretto Parish. Darrah, too, was bright and talented, Kelley said. Nichols described her as creative, enjoying writing, drawing and acting. Both she and Gambino had been in last year's play as singers, actors and dancers.

Teachers and friends remembered her as vibrant and happy, with a contagious smile and a twinkle in her eye. She had been president of the Literary Club, vice president of the Future Business Leaders of America, secretary of the Senior National Honor Society and a representative of the SGA, and a member of the Anchor Club and volleyball team.

Recently, she had started writing a column for the Daleville Sun-Courier, "Warhawk Talk" by Darrah Grant and she had planned articles for the remainder of the year.

She had been in the Pride of the South Marching Band color guard. Both she and Gambino were also in the Advanced Placement English class. Merriss was also a close friend of Miss Grant. He said she had many friends.

"She knows now how many lives she has touched during her time here and I think she would want everyone to always remember the good memories we had with her," he said.

Merriss said the students who gathered at the wreck scene for candlelight vigil on at least two evenings since the accident realize that their friends are in a better place.

"They are in the heavens watching over all of us for the rest of our time," he said. "But they will be greatly missed."

Kelley said the loss of the students has left the school family reeling with grief.

"It's been a tough time," Kelley said. "We're a small community, and these kids are close. They don't just go to school here; they work together at places like Larry's, McLin's, McDonald's and Subway, and they develop a bond."

Kelley said the DHS students, particularly the senior class members, have come together to grieve and support each other and the families of their lost loved ones.

"We are united in this school system, and we'll get through this," he said, admitting, however, that tough times still lie ahead for the students and for the teachers and faculty members who come to know and love the students. "When I became a teacher and then a principal, my philosophy was that I was going to treat these kids like they were my own, so this really hurts," said Kelley, in his second year as principal.

Students were shocked and saddened when they heard the news of the accident Saturday. Many were in Troy, where the Pride of the South Marching Band was in competition.

Kelley said the four seniors were on their way to the competition as well and Jones had just picked up Miss Grant when the accident occurred a short distance from her home.

News of the accident soon spread to Troy, where family members of the wreck victims were located and escorted by police back to Daleville. More than 100 students were said to have gathered at the hospital, awaiting news on the conditions of their classmates and comforting each other in grief.

"There were so many kids hurting," Kelley said, noting that though school is now in intercession, school officials felt it was important the school system step in to offer a place for students to gather. Consequently, the cafeteria was opened Saturday night and several teachers and clergymen came to counsel with students.

On Monday morning, the school was opened again and Daleville restaurants brought food and drinks for students gathering to share their grief. Wiregrass Hospice sent that organization's counselors to the school to join the school counselors and other teachers who spent the time talking with students.

"We appreciate what the police department, the city, the school system and everyone has done," Kelley said. "Everyone has really come together to help."

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.