DENHAM SPRINGS – Tributes and memorials continued in the community for a 14-year-old Denham Springs Freshman School student who died after a truck hit him Thursday on Cockerham Road.
Denham Springs Freshman School Principal Ken Magee echoed the sentiments many others shared about Bryce Edling, who died during his walk to school.
“He was a model student, had straight A’s and was well-liked by his peers and teachers,” he said. “Obviously, it’s tough when you lose any student, but when it’s someone of that caliber, it makes it even tougher.”
The Livingston Parish Public School System pulled guidance counselors from other schools to provide grief counseling to the students at DSFS and Denham Springs High School.
A memorial assembly for Edling helped his classmates cope with the loss.
“We thought it was important to let us all grieve together,” Magee said. “We tried to make it light, talking about him, what he was like.”
The assembly included messages students wrote to Bryce’s family, along with a discussion on how to cope with death – the first time for many in the student body.
“We tried to make it light, talking about him and what he was like,” Magee said. “Students can be laughing and still be dealing with grief and heartache at the same time.”
The mood was grim Friday, something of a follow-up from the shock the school and community felt the day of the accident.
“They’re still coping,” Magee said.
Counseling will continue at the schools, Livingston Parish Public School System Superintendent Rick Wentzel said in a statement Thursday afternoon.
“We are deeply saddened at the tragic loss of this young man,” he said. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to Bryce Edling’s family, as well as so many in the Denham Springs community who are mourning his loss.
“We will continue to do what we can to bring comfort at this difficult time,” Wentzel said.
Residents in the community set up a makeshift memorial of cards, signs and flowers in front of Northside Baptist Church, adjacent to where the accident occurred.
Classmate Michael Bosley, 14, sobbed as he glanced over the memorial.
"It's very sad to lose a classmate -- it's almost like you lost a family member,"he said. "It's really hard with Bryce because he was always so nice and such a good student. "
Jaxson Martin, 10, never met Edling, but lived in the same neighborhood. As a student who once walked to school each day, Martin said he felt compelled to leave a cherished possession at the memorial site.
“I had this teddy bear since I was four, and it was the only thing I could bring with me into the flood and after the flood,” a teary-eyed Martin said. “It was one of those things that had stuck with me my whole life.
“I really hope his family will be okay and they won’t struggle,” he said.
Martin said he had walked to school until his mother Brooke decided he should ride the bus.
Safety played a role in the decision, she said.
“Everyone is always late for work, rushing and speeding,” Brooke Martin said. “It’s just scary.”
She feared wrecks or other fatalities along Cockerham, a road with constant flow of traffic throughout the day.
“We live in the neighborhood and we heard all this happening this morning,” Brooke Martin said.
The accident Thursday validated her worst fears.
“This has touched us pretty seriously … it hit so close to home,” Martin said.
A pickup truck traveling eastbound hit Edling as he crossed the street, Denham Springs Police Chief Shannon Womack said.
The accident occurred around 7 a.m.
“I was putting my kids on a school bus, heard the squealing of tires and thought it was a car crash,” Martin said.
Joseph Carpenter, 36, of 1807 Carolyn Drive, was listed as the driver of the truck. Officers filed no criminal charges against Carpenter.
A breathalyzer test and blood sample showed no signs of impairment. Police do not suspect he was speeding.
Although officers ruled out speeding, residents have complained about the 45 mph speed limit along the road for several years.
“In all the years I’ve complained numerous times about the speed on Cockerham Road, which is a heavily residential area with a lot of houses,” resident Ron Childs said. “That speed limit has allowed people to fudge that, and I know I’ve seen a lot of people at least 65 mph.
“The community is getting even more heavily populated and people have gotten hurt from the speeding,” he said. “All I’m saying is that we can’t let this happen again.”
Mayor Gerard Landry said Thursday the city has already reduced the speed limit from 45 mph to 35 mph.
“The accident is under investigation, so there’s no indication at this point that speeding contributed to this tragedy,” he said.
Cockerham had been a state highway until the City took control of the route through the state DOTD’s Road Transfer Program.
The City Council in a November meeting authorized Landry signing a deal with the state Department of Transportation & Development to take over Cockerham Road and Centerville Street.
By taking over the roads, Landry said, DOTD gave Denham Springs a $856,318 “road transfer credit.” That credit can be used when the city has a 20 percent match to the state’s 80 percent match on road projects.
Prior to the transfer, the DOTD made the final call on a change in speed limits.
“We had asked the DOTD to do it and (former mayor) Jimmy Durbin’s administration did it before that.” Landry said. “For whatever reason, they did not consider it necessary to reduce the speed limit.”
Landry said the city had already gotten the wheels turning on the change of speed limits.
“The signs are going up,” he said.
City officials never understood the reason behind the 45 mph speed limit on Cockerham, Landry said.
“It’s a two-lane highway, while Range Avenue – a four-lane highway—has a speed limit of thirty-five,” Landry said. “It never made sense.”