By Sammy Underberg
New York City, New York
On Sunday, January 15, University of Georgia football player Devin Willock and recruiting staffer Chandler LeCroy lost their lives when a 2021 Ford Expedition SUV failed to navigate a left curb and collided with two poles.
The accident occurred shortly after the team’s national championship victory celebration. The car car was driven off Barnett Shoals Road and collided with a power and utility pole—both of which were broken in half. The first impact took place when the rear passenger side quarter panel struck a tree. The rotation prompted the car’s second collision; this time on the driver’s side. The vehicle was said to have been moving faster than 40 miles per hour, according to the Georgia Motor Vehicle Crash Report.
The road where the accident happened was parallel to a sidewalk with no barriers on the edge. “That car dented like a tin can,” said Cecily Pangburn, an apartment building occupant. A different resident, Jonathan D'Souza, claims he was the first to react to the accident scene. D’Souza said the crash sounded like a gunshot, which motivated him to go outdoors in the first place. As he stood outside in the dark due to the power outage from the clashing poles, D’Souza called out to Willock who was laid faced down. D’Souza recalled the moment: “It was the most helpless feeling because you wish you could save him, but you knew he’s already gone.”
The Georgia football team had left Sanford Stadium at the time of the accident, where they had just won their second consecutive national title. Their celebration was quickly terminated by the news of the sudden deaths of their team member and staffer.
Although four people were in the car, only Willock and LeCroy died; the other two survived with severe injuries. Willock, 20, was located in the seat behind LeCroy, 24, where he was quickly ejected from the car. Immediately afterwards, the vehicle slammed into the corner of an apartment building. It is unknown whether LeCroy, who was driving the SUV, was under the influence of alcohol.
Victoria Bowles, age 26, was one of the two accident survivors. According to information provided by the Athens-Clarke County Police Department, Bowles was not wearing a seat belt during the incident and sustained many injuries. The second survivor, 21-year old Warren McClendon, sat in the front passenger seat and sustained a head injury during the collision. McClendon's father reported that his son required stitches but is “doing well.”
Willock, a sophomore who grew up in New Milford, New Jersey, had been a player on the team since his freshman year in 2020. Willock appeared in 15 games on UGA’s offensive line this season and Willock presumably would have competed for a starting position in 2023 as the Bulldogs attempted to win their third consecutive championship.
Willock’s aunt and uncle, Cicely and Norman Stout, stated that in addition to his athletic abilities, Willock was a good student who was well-liked by his classmates and teachers. At a mourning ceremony the night after his passing, Cicely said “Devin was always smiling, no matter what. He was doing very well in academics. He was a good student and a very good person.” His family members weren’t alone in this sentiment—prior to his death, a fan posted a tweet recognizing Willock’s actions of going out of his way to take a picture with a young fan. The tweet read “Special thank u to @DevinWillock for taking time for my grandson when he didn’t have to.”
University Of Georgia Head Football Coach, Kirby Smart, said “[Devin] was a great teammate and a joy to coach. Chandler was a valuable member of our football staff and brought an incredible attitude and energy every single day.” The team and the university continue to mourn the members of their community that passed, and officials continue to investigate the incident to understand what led to the tragedy.