Coach remembers hard-working teen killed in Bartow crash

Brandon Crawford’s parents, younger brother died in 5-vehicle wreck that also killed 21-year-old woman
Brandon Crawford's coach said the 14-year-old was always "full of joy."

Credit: Courtesy: Steve Gates

Credit: Courtesy: Steve Gates

Brandon Crawford's coach said the 14-year-old was always "full of joy."

Cass High School football coach Steve Gates has been involved in hundreds of team meetings during his career, but this one was different.

He was forced to call one Monday morning to talk about a tragedy: the death of freshman Brandon Crawford.

“I was sitting in my office, and the whole team’s sitting out there, waiting on me to come talk to them in the weight room,” Gates told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday. “I didn’t have an answer. I was lost.”

He finally summoned the strength to address the group, carefully delivering the painful news.

“I do remember myself finishing, saying, ‘That’s all I got.’ And I turned around and walked back into my office,” the coach said. “When I finished, oddly enough, they sat there for probably another 10 minutes and you could have heard a pin drop.”

Crawford, 14, was killed Sunday in a five-vehicle crash when his parents’ Kia van crossed the median on I-75 South in Bartow County and collided with two other vehicles, according to authorities.

The wreck, which happened at around 6 p.m. just north of the Red Top Mountain Road exit, also killed his mother, 35-year-old Erin Mason, and his stepfather, 43-year-old Dakarai Mason. The driver of a Toyota 4Runner, 21-year-old Aimee Odom, was also killed. All four were from Cartersville.

According to a GoFundMe campaign, Crawford’s two younger brothers, Noah and Titus, were also in the van. Titus was critically injured and pronounced dead Wednesday. Noah is expected to make a full recovery. Noah is 5 and Titus is 6, Channel 2 Action News reported.

Gates said Crawford’s mother was heavily involved with helping the Cass football program, volunteering to make hundreds of cupcakes for players in her spare time. She also worked with the Holly Springs Police Department as a civilian employee.

There are about 90 to 100 players on the Colonels’ roster, Gates pointed out, and more than 20 coaches and managers combined.

“When it’s all said and done, you’re feeding 125, 140 people on any given day,” Gates said. “She shows up with about 250 cupcakes.”

Yesterday, we lost a beloved member of our Holly Springs Police Department family. Please keep the family of Erin and...

Posted by Holly Springs Police Department on Monday, May 20, 2024

That’s the type of family Crawford came from, he added.

Gates remembers the teen as being “full of joy,” a hard worker who always wanted to please his coaches.

“You usually have 25 to 35 rising ninth graders that come in. Of course, they’re just lost puppies,” the coach said. But Crawford was just excited to be there.

“He was just an infectious kid,” Gates said.

The coaches affectionately called the offensive lineman a “runner,” Gates said.

“We got somebody that’s sprinting all over the place out here going from car to locker room, locker room to the field,” he said. “You know, we just kind of made light of it.”

The family was on their way home from a church event Sunday when the crash occurred, the GoFundMe said. Their van collided with Odom’s Toyota and a Chevrolet Tahoe just south of Cartersville. Those vehicles were then struck by a commercial vehicle. The Chevy was also hit in the rear by a Hyundai SUV, officials said.

The driver of the Chevy and two people in the Hyundai were also taken to the hospital but survived.

Channel 2 reported that Odom was on her way to a graduation party when she was killed in the crash, which shut down the interstate for hours.

“My husband and my daughter and I left our house and went to go find her and drove up on the accident,” a friend of Odom told the news station. “Aimee is just a wonderful person. A lovely soul, super outgoing and completely generous.”