Community mourns 3 young men killed in LaGrange car crash

Community members in LaGrange came together Wednesday night to remember three young men killed in a car accident over the weekend. A few hundred people showed up to Lafayette Square for a candlelight prayer vigil honoring the lives of 24-year-old Rico Dunn, 18-year-old Stephen Bartolotta and 19-year-old Jacob Brown.

"This has been an incredible loss in our community," LaGrange Mayor Jim Thornton said.

The three were killed in a crash on Georgia 109 near Paddle Wheel Drive Saturday night when Brown’s car struck Dunn’s truck head-on, investigators said. Brown and Bartolotta, who played on the LaGrange College baseball team, were headed home from a win at the USA South Tournament.

"We’ve experienced as a community a tremendous loss of three beautiful young lives with Rico and Jacob and Stephen, and we wanted to come together as a community and remember them," LaGrange College President Susanna Baxter said. 

The event was put on by Confidence Missionary Baptist Church in partnership with LaGrange College. Organizers said the goal was to bring the community together in its grief. Dunn’s siblings said they’re still trying to process the loss.

"It still doesn’t feel real you know…it hasn’t set in," Nicholos Ligon said. 

His sister Alexis Gunn aid they’re grateful they aren’t going through it alone as many in the community came out to show their support.

"It’s just…my heart is full," she said.

It was an event Pastor Michael Jackson of Confidence Missionary Baptist Church said was needed. The message from community leaders was while the tragedy may not make sense, the only way through it is together.

"Prayer brings about healing and healing only happens in time…it speaks volumes of us as a community coming together in times of tragedy," he said.

The event ended with a balloon release as community members said the names of Rico, Stephen, and Jacob. Organizers said they hope the community will continue to lean on one another through the loss.

LaGrange College, which is currently ranked No. 4 in the country in Division III and is 37-6, had not decided if they will be continuing with a scheduled tournament after the tragedy.

LaGrange College baseball players, 24-year-old killed in Troup County crash

The crash happened around 9:15 p.m. on May 24 along Roanoke Road and Paddle Wheel Drive. The Georgia State Patrol said three vehicles were involved. Troopers said a silver 2015 Honda Accord passed a gray 2019 Honda Accord in a no passing zone striking a 2008 GMC Sierra head-on. The crash caused the Sierra to overturn into the median. 

Troopers said both occupants in the silver Accord were pronounced dead at the scene. The driver of the Sierra was taken by helicopter to Piedmont Columbus Regional hospital where he later died, troopers said.

No one in the gray accord was injured, but debris from the crash caused damage to the vehicle, trooper said.

The Georgia State Patrol’s specialized crash reconstruction team is investigating the accident.

Stephen Bartolotta

Stephen Bartolotta (LaGrange College)

Who is Stephen Bartolotta?

Stephen Bartolotta came to LaGrange College from Palm City, Florida. The 18-year-old played baseball at Martin County High School for three years under head coach Brett Hawkins. He called Bartolotta one of the hardest workers.

"From the day I met Stevie, he always had a smile on his face and probably one of the top five kids as far as work ethic goes I’ve ever had in 20 years of coaching," Hawkins told TCPalm. "He was always upbeat, and was truly a good kid. He was one of those kids where you wish had 15 of them on your team. When he got into a game, he was a bulldog. He wasn't the biggest kid, he wasn't the strongest kid and he wasn't the fastest kid, but when you handed him the baseball, he'd say, 'Coach, I got you.'"

Bartolotta was initially recruited to LaGrange College to play infielder, but he convinced the coaches of his abilities on the mound.

"Stevie just loved life and he loved the game of baseball," Hawkins said. "The boys are doing okay, it's hit a lot of the boys that he played with and graduated with last year hard. I've heard from a lot of former players, reaching out to me. We just built our hitting facility, roofing and everything in our cage area at our field and the boys want me to dedicate it to Stevie so that is in the works."

Funeral arrangements have not yet been released.

Jacob Brown

Jacob Brown

Who is Jacob Brown?

Jacob Brown was from Duluth, Georgia. He played baseball at Peachtree Ridge High School before attending LaGrange College.

The 19-year-old pitched during the USA South Tournament championship win over N.C. Wesleyan on Saturday. 

"Our Peachtree Ridge Athletics community is mourning the loss of alumni Jacob Brown. A 2021 graduate, Jacob was a pitcher for the Lions who had a great personality and an unmatched passion for the game of baseball. He will be missed dearly by all of those at Peachtree Ridge," Peachtree Ridge High School Athletic Director Ryan Lesniak wrote.

Funeral arrangements are being handled by Striffler-Hamby Mortuary in LaGrange.

Georgia State Patrol said West Point resident Rico Martinx Dunn died after he was airlifted to Piedmont Columbus Regional Hospital. Dunn's family shared a photo of their loved one with FOX 5 Atlanta.

Georgia State Patrol said West Point resident Rico Martinx Dunn died after he was airlifted to Piedmont Columbus Regional Hospital. Dunn's family shared a photo of their loved one with FOX 5 Atlanta. (Provided by family)

Who is Rico Dunn?

Rico Martinx Dunn is described by his family members as being one of the most loving and caring men.

The 24-year-old's brother, Nicholos Legon, said Rico was driving back from West Point Lake at the time of the crash. He had spent the day celebrating their sister’s 28th birthday.

"Rico was a very, very, very, very loving, like you just don't understand how loving a young man and he really, really, really enjoyed spending time with the kids, all his nieces and nephews, taking them out fishing and just showing them nature and loving life," said Legon.

Georgia State Patrol said the West Point resident died after he was airlifted to Piedmont Columbus Regional Hospital.

Legon said Dunn's family expresses their condolences to everyone here at LaGrange College, especially the two families of these players.

Funeral arrangements are being handled by Lakes-Dunson-Robertson Funeral Home in La Grange.