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East County Wednesday, Mar. 6, 2019 3 years ago

Community rallies around former Lakewood Ranch basketball star

He was the victim of a hit-and-run accident Feb. 28 and remains in intensive care.
by: Ryan Kohn Sports Editor

The news of Jack Kelley's terrible Feb. 28 auto accident in Bradenton had spread quickly, leaving his former Lakewood Ranch High basketball teammates and friends shaken.

Such was the case for Evan Spiller, who graduated with Kelley in 2018, and was working at Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club on Feb. 28 when he received a text from their former Mustangs basketball teammate, Sam Hester, telling him the news.

Kelley, who attends the State College of Florida, Sarasota-Manatee, was in critical condition at Sarasota Memorial Hospital.

After leaving his job, Spiller went to his computer to search for more information about the accident.

Earlier that day, according to the Florida Highway Patrol, Kelley's 2018 Audi A3 was traveling north on U.S. 41 at 7:45 a.m. when a silver 2003 Kia Sedona, facing south, attempted to turn left into a Race Trac gas station north of the Sarasota-Bradenton Airport.

The Sedona cut in front and collided with Kelley's car, which flipped several times before coming to rest on its roof in front of the Lantern Inn and Suites at 7251 N. Tamiami Trail, Bradenton. The accident was captured on security cameras and was broadcast all over the internet and by television networks.

Jack Kelley played basketball at Lakewood Ranch High, helping the Mustangs win three district titles.

Kelley, 19, remains in the intensive care unit with a traumatic brain injury. Mike Kelley, Jack's father, said doctors have not given the family a timetable for Jack's recovery, but they expect the process to be a long one. Mike Kelley said he wanted to keep the specifics on his son's condition private.

"It is baby steps right now," Mike Kelley said. "He is showing physically that his body is working, but with traumatic brain injuries, each one is different. He has a good pulse and is breathing, but it is going to be quite a while." 

People can donate to Jack's GoFundMe page, with all donations going toward his medical expenses and recovery. 

Kelley said he is glad the driver of the car, Zachari Brock, 24, has been arrested, as that particular part of the story can be closed, but that the story is much bigger than a car accident. The focus, Kelley said, should be on Jack and the rest of the family as Jack recovers. While Jack cannot have visitors in his room, Mike Kelley said, people are welcome to stop by the hospital and bring cards or other gifts he can have down the road. Kelley said families of his former teammates have brought the Kelleys dinner as well. 

For now, Jack's family and friends are doing what they can to support each other. 

Stunned and concerned

Spiller has spent hours by himself following the accident, trying to come to terms with horrible news. Also an SCF freshman, Spiller had seen Kelley Feb. 25 in their History of Motion Pictures class. They had texted Feb. 26 about attending the Lakewood Ranch boys basketball team's regional final game against East Lake High that was March 1. 

The two are lifelong friends. Spiller said he and Kelley played on the same travel team, the Sarasota Gators, when they were in sixth grade. He used to sleep over at Kelley's house the night before games. 

Jack Kelley (34) and his Lakewood Ranch High teammates celebrate a district title victory in 2017-2018.

"We would play 'torpedo tag' in his pool," Spiller said. "Wake up, eat some chocolate chip pancakes, then go play. I have been through it all with that kid. 

"He is the type of kid you want in your life. He's smart, bright. You just want to be around him. I mean... it's Jack." 

Spiller went to visit the Kelley family at the hospital March 1, even though Jack is not allowed to have visitors other than family members in his room. Spiller helped set up the GoFundMe page for the family, and let them know he will help them in every way he can. Mike Kelley said Spiller will be the conduit between the Kelleys and Jack's friends, posting updates on his social media accounts, since he knows all of them. 

He also tried communicating with Jack, in his own way. 

"I sent him a couple text messages, even though he cannot read them," Spiller said. "Just to let him know how I have been feeling and how everyone is supporting him. He is a fighter. I told him to keep fighting, and I will be in his corner.

"I also told him that Lakewood Ranch won, that they won it for him."

Former teammates shaken

Before the game against East Lake, a moment of silence was held in Jack's honor set up by Mustangs coach Jeremy Schiller on the family's behalf. Mike Kelley said the program took video of the moment to show Jack when he is able to view it. The moment, Mike Kelley said, showcased what an impact Jack left on the school. 

The Mustangs went on to defeat East Lake 57-47. Schiller said postgame that Jack had sent text massages to players and coaches Feb. 27, wishing them luck. Kelley won three district titles with the program and helped the Mustangs reach the final four in 2016-2017.

"He's family," Schiller said. 

Schiller said the program was trying to get warm-up shirts printed in honor of Jack before its state semifinal game against Fleming Island High at 2 p.m. March 8 at the R.P. Funding Center in Lakeland. Update: The program received them in time. 

Creating merchandise for sale is Miclayne Powell, who said he became friends with Jack in first grade at Rowlett Elementary. Powell, now a freshman at Tallahassee Community College, attended Braden River High, not Lakewood Ranch High, but said his and Jack's bond remained strong. When Powell heard the news, he said, he drove down from Tallahassee to support the Kelleys.

Powell is in the midst of designing a webpage where people will be able to buy T-shirts, sweatshirts and wristbands, with all proceeds going to the Kelleys. When the webpage is ready, it will be blasted onto social media platforms, as Powell said he wants Jack's story and the fundraising efforts to reach as wide an audience as possible. 

Powell said he has also been documenting everything he can, taking screenshots of supportive tweets and writing him notes chronicling the community's actions. 

"Jack (who is 6-foot-5) is a fun-loving, goofy, gentle giant," Powell said. "He is kind to other people. Smart, athletic, just an all-around great guy. I have to show him the support he's getting." 

SCF assistant men's basketball coach Robert Beckmann said that while Jack was not part of the team, he knew many of the players and coaches, and would occasionally come into the gym to shoot hoops with everyone.

The program tweeted a get-well message to Jack: "Thoughts and prayers to Jack Kelley, our brother," followed by symbols of praying hands and a red heart. 

The Kelley family is thankful for everything being done in Jack's honor. 

"He has had a huge impact," Mike Kelley said. "He has earned respect and love. All the support from the community has been overwhelming." 

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I’m the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. I was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. My biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. My strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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