MANSFIELD, Ohio -- The family and friends of a senior at Madison Comprehensive High School in Mansfield, are mourning his death, just weeks before he was scheduled to graduate.
The Ohio Highway Patrol says a pickup truck, driven by 18-year-old James Thompson, was traveling at a high rate of speed and was left of center on a Richland County road on Saturday afternoon, when it collided head-on with a Franklin Township fire truck that was returning from a training exercise.
The firefighter at the wheel escaped serious injury. James Thompson was pronounced dead at the scene. His 17-year-old passenger was ejected from the truck, but survived.
Shelly Smith, who was a classmate of Thompson and responded to the scene in one of her family’s tow trucks, told Fox 8, "My heart dropped. It dropped because I knew. I was like, 'This is the end,' there's no way he survived this because I've seen too much of it to know."
Smith said Thompson was known by his nickname "Hotrod."
"I think 'Hotrod' came about when he was on his dirt bikes or in his truck and he would just go fast, and I mean me as a tow truck driver, I told him like, 'James, slow down a little bit; just a little bit,' you know," Smith recalled.
Donald Pifher, who is a maintenance employee at Madison High, said the tragedy is compounded by the fact that James Thompson's father is a vocational instructor at the school.
"James was a student of his dad, his machining class, and it's going to be very, very difficult for him," said Pifher.
Pifher said Thompson is the third student in three years from the Madison community to die in an auto accident.
"They need to learn how to slow down, be alert and quit trying to show off as much," he said. “It's not going to get you anywhere."
Shelly Smith added, "I think the loss of James can teach us to slow down a little bit and live life to the fullest and never take each other for granted, because in the blink of an eye, it can be gone and gone forever."
In an effort to help James Thompson's friends and classmates cope with the tragedy, grief counseling will be available on Monday at Madison High School.