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Basketball tournament to honor Chesterfield teens killed in 2023 car crash

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Posted at 6:59 PM, Jan 04, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-04 18:59:10-05

CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- As memorial and funeral services take place Thursday and Friday for a Midlothian High School teenager killed in a car crash last Saturday, another Chesterfield County high school is getting set to honor two of their students who were killed in a car crash last year.

Several seniors at James River High School will host a 3-on-3 basketball tournament named for and played in honor of Will Hammitt and Nick Booth, who were seniors at the school when they crashed on Old Gun Road West in April 2023.

"I think it's definitely been challenging to deal with. But, I think it's brought the school together and we've all been able to get through this together," said Ethan Joseph, one of the tournament organizers. "We've been able to really put our energy towards honoring their lives and working for the cause of safe driving and that has made it a little bit easier."

"Two of the greatest guys that I was able to meet. Very genuine and, just, love those guys a lot," added Zach Eklund, another organizer, of Nick and Will, who he knew through football and lacrosse.

The organizers said along with impacting the school community as a whole, it has impacted how they feel when driving.

"It is a realization moment that when you step behind that wheel, it's, like, yes, you have some things in your control, but ultimately, there's still unknown factors in it," said organizer Liam Henry. "When you're behind that wheel you truly do have to be careful, because you're putting your own self at risk and you're putting those around you at risk. It's a realization that, any given day, something could happen whether it's your fault or it's not."

The tournament will take place on January 6 at James River High School from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Organizers said they have around 20 teams signed up, but have room for a few more (they ask teams to be made up of high school or college-age players).

Attendance for fans is free, but they are encouraging donations as all the money raised will go towards the group Youth of Virginia Speak Out About Traffic Safety, known as YOVASO, which promotes safe teen driving.

The tournament was planned before last Saturday's crash that killed Wyatt Fowler, 15, but the organizers said the timing just drives home the seriousness of what they are raising awareness about.

"It's just tragic and so, I hope that this opens up eyes to the real problem at hand. There's unsafe driving and that needs to be taken care of. It's a real issue," said Eklund.

"It is a relevant issue. So, you know, I hope that this tournament, like, we can use this platform to really spread the message that we need safe teen driving," added Joseph.

Organizers said representatives from YOVASO will speak prior to the games beginning, as will Dave Booth, the father of Nick Booth.

Booth and the three teenagers spoke to CBS 6 on Thursday at Robious Landing Park, in the same spot where Nick and Will's parents stood last August to launch another campaign in their memory. The spot was picked, initially, because of the boys' love of the outdoors.

"I've talked about coming down here, I've just never been able to bring myself to do it. And, you know, coming down here brings a lot of good memories. And obviously some pretty tough ones, too," said Booth. "Nostalgia, sadness, happiness."

The campaign that was launched was the Chesterfield County Police Department's "In Memory Of" campaign which distributed fliers to encourage safe driving.

"Over the course of several months, we probably distributed over 6,000 cards," said Booth.

As to what he will say on Saturday, his first public comment since August, Booth said it has changed because of the Brandermill crash.

"I was thinking that we would continue this message of love and community and 'Remember how important you are to other people' and that kind of thing," said Booth. "And then I woke up on December 30, which happened to be my son's 19th birthday -- which was going to be the worst day since he died, honestly -- to a text message from a friend of mine that his daughter had let him know that a boy from Midlothian had been killed in a car accident."

Booth said he did not know Fowler directly, but he knows many people who did.

"And I felt like, 'Man, what the heck.' You know, for eight months we've been out here. We have been very public in our mourning and our grieving and our loss. We have never shied away from telling people, 'Man, this really sucks. And you don't want this to happen to you.' And eight months later on my son's birthday, it happened again, right down the street," said Booth. "And I don't think that for these young folks, that message of love and caring is the way to get their attention. I think that telling them and sharing with them the fact that my son is dead and he's never coming back. And all the cool t-shirts and all the cool bracelets and all the plaques and the three-on-three basketball tournaments, that doesn't matter. What matters is the fact that he's never going home again."

The organizers of the tournament said they feel for the students at Midlothian High School and encourage them to rely on each other for support.

"Just to look to become stronger as a community. Look for the people right next to you that are hurting just as much. You can learn a lot from that," said Eklund. "My lacrosse team went through a lot of pain when this happened eight months ago. But, we found a lot of hope and a lot of security in each other knowing we were going through the same exact thing."

While Booth offers this advice to Fowler's family:

"Circle the wagons, hug each other, love each other. Don't shy away from the fact that this is the hardest thing you're ever going to do. And don't feel like you have to do anything. All you have to do is grieve your son and grieve that young man and the rest will come the rest will happen. It's going to happen."

Depend on CBS 6 News and WTVR.com for in-depth coverage of this important local story. Anyone with more information can email newstips@wtvr.com to send a tip.

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