ORLANDO, Fla. (WOFL FOX 35) - It was a ride they’ll never forget, on a day that should have marked a positive milestone in their young lives.
“It was the difference between sitting on the left side or the right side on, if I’d be here with this conversation,” 19-year-old Tommy Stevenson said in disbelief.
Stevenson and Malik Washington, former Boone High School football players, tried to comfort one another, as they sat for our interview. The two are survivors of a horrific bus crash that happened on Saturday, outside of Fayetteville, North Carolina. Four of their teammates from Rahmah Academy were killed in the wreck.
“It was my birthday," said Washington. "I was determined to get my first win of my career.”
The guys said the bus arrived late, a few players arrived late and when they hit the road, something didn’t feel right.
“It was too shaky. It felt, it didn’t feel secure,” said Stevenson. Washington added, “Me personally, I’m just thinking I got pre game jitters.”
Around 90 minutes into the trip, the bus blew a front tire.
“I heard the coach yell out, 'Hang on!'” said Washington. “We were going underneath an underpass. The bus lost control, hit the concrete pillar underneath the underpass, split the bus left side of the bus open,” said Stevenson.
The bus kept going. Stevenson said his teammate sitting next to him was asleep.
“I threw my body over him, so that he wouldn’t go flying out the window,” said Stevenson.
Washington said an 8-year old was sitting next to him. “I threw my left arm over him to make sure he didn’t go flying. That’s why my arm is in a sling now,” he said, gesturing to his arm.
When the bus stopped, Stevenson what he saw and heard was horrifying.
“I see a lot of people groaning and moaning, blood everywhere,” said Stevenson. “ I looked down and seen one of my players lifeless. His name was Gibb,” said Washington.
The two, who were suffering from minor injuries in comparison to others, kicked out windows and one by one helped their teammates out of the bus. In the middle of the madness, Washington tried to help one of their coaches out.
“He looked me straight in the eye and said, 'Save my son! Forget me, save my son!'" said Washington.
He said he when he found the coach's son, he was unresponsive. He pulled some metal away from the coach's son, got him off the bus and held him in his arms and soon realized he was covered in blood that was not his own. Devonte Gibson was dead, one of the four who died that day.
“Tomorrow is not promised,” said Washington.
A first game that never was played. A team that will never take the field together. Players who will never be forgotten.
“Every game I’m going to play, I’m going to play for them because they won’t ever get to play,” said Stevenson.