UNION, S.C. (WSPA) – A music teacher was killed Friday morning in a crash in Union County.
According to South Carolina Highway Patrol, the crash happened at 7:56 a.m. on Whitmire Highway (US-176) near Clairmont Road.
Troopers said a 2009 bucket truck was traveling north on US-176 while a 2014 Ford Expedition was traveling south.
The driver of the bucket truck traveled left of center and hit the Ford Expedition head-on, troopers said.
The Union County Sheriff’s Office said they received a call about a reckless driver a short time before the crash.
“Deputies were heading to the area to intercept the vehicle,” said Captain Scott Coffer with the Union County Sheriff’s Office. “It was given out as a bucket utility truck.”
Capt. Coffer said the crash happened just before deputies arrived.
The driver of the Ford Expedition was pronounced dead at the scene.
The coroner’s office identified him as Stephen Lee Jennings, 31, of Union.
Union County School said Jennings, a first-year music teacher at Sims Middle School, was headed to school when the crash happened.
“Mr. Jennings was actually on his way to work this morning to Sims Middle School. He was actually scheduled to be our musician for our field trip for our Sims Singers today. So they were on the way to get on the bus,” said Eric Childers, Director of Administration & Public Information Officer for Union County Schools.
“So he was one of our chaperones, plus he was the musician that was going to be accompanying them. They were supposed to be singing and performing at Carowinds today,” said Childers.
Childers said Jennings was about a mile away from the school.
“His influence expands more than just this year, because he’s a product of our school system. He grew up here. He went to high school here. He plays in churches. He was a minister around these parts. One of the most talented singers. His faith just was inspiring to all of us, and so he’s very well-known and very well loved throughout our community,” Childers said.
“His finger tips and his impact was pretty much on every student that we had at the school this year,” he said.
Many people who spoke with 7News off-camera said Jennings was a talented organist and singer.
Kavion Hannah witnessed Jennings’ love of music and singing at Limestone University.
“Stephen and I met at Limestone College and we were connected through our love for music. We both had a passion. Stephen was a talented organist and tuba player, euphonium player–and he graduated during my time there, but we bonded. He became a staff member at Limestone, and we’ve always had that connection,” Hannah said.
“I was a preacher, and he was an organist. So, we’re just two peas in a pod there,” Hannah continued. “We always bonded over our love for just serving the church and serving God’s people, and I’m really sadden for his family and also the churches that he served.”
“Whenever we saw each other, it’s like you know we had talked every single day,” Hannah said.
Childers, a former teacher who knew Jennings as a student, said he become a caring adult.
“I taught Stephen high school chemistry back in the day, and he was as good a kid, as he was an adult. So I remember that he was extremely bright. Extremely gifted academically,” Childers said. “Even back then we knew that he was a different breed when it came to music, because even as a teenager, he just kind of excelled in that area.”
“I thought very highly of him. He was as good of a man that you’re ever going to find,” Childers said. “I think what I would say about Stephen Jennings is that, what you saw is what you got. Like there wasn’t two Stephen Jennings. He was the same to your face, behind your face, out in the community and in private.”
Childers said he hopes students learn from Jennings.
“I think that’s what I want them to remember, is that he wanted them to step up. He wanted to inspire the next generation,” Childers said. “I hope that his legacy goes on, and that people understand, that if you’re going to follow an example, follow Stephen Jennings example. That’s the kind of people we want to have in this world.”
“A giant of faith. A giant of friendship. A giant of love and compassion – that’s Stephen,” Hannah said. “He was a brother’s brother. A friend’s friend. A musician’s musician. He was a giant.”
“His personality just resonated, even after now that he’s gone – that’s one person you’ll never forget,” Hannah said.
Sims Middle School released the following statement:
The faculty and staff of Sims Middle School are mourning the loss of one of our beloved teacher, Mr. Stephen Jennings. He always brought love and light each morning as he met the students with a smile and kind words to help them make it through the day. He was an accomplished professional musician, and he was the epitome of a dedicated educator. Please pray for his family, our work family, and our community as we grieve.Dr. LaTunya Means
Jennings was a Limestone alumnus who was serving as the Coordinator of the Call Me MISTER Program for Limestone University.
A statement from Limestone University said, “The Limestone University community is saddened and heartbroken to learn of the death of Stephen Lee Jennings earlier today.”
Counselors and faith-based leaders were at the school to help students, faculty and staff.
Troopers said the driver of the bucket truck was taken to the hospital
This crash remains under investigation by the South Carolina Highway Patrol and the Union County Coroner’s Office.