A small community lost a giant presence this weekend when Dawson County High School coach and special education teacher Jed Lacey was killed in a car wreck on Ga. 400.
Students past and present, as well as fellow teachers and administrators, family and friends gathered Saturday night at a prayer vigil on the sidelines of the football field at DCHS.
Many said the location was an appropriate one, remembering how Lacey, as assistant football coach, used to pace there during football games.
Chuck Crotzer, lead pastor of the Christian motorcycle ministry club Chariots of Fire, led the prayer vigil, which began at 7 p.m.
He told the crowd not to be depressed over the sudden passing of the beloved coach of the varsity girls and boys soccer teams, and pray for his family during the difficult time.
Karen Armstrong, vice chairperson of the board of education and former DCHS soccer mom, led a moment of silence and talked about how she got to know Lacey during the decade she knew him.
“When I got the call this morning, I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “I think of him as a warrior, nothing could break him. He had a vibrant personality. We lost someone special and we’ll never forget him.”
Fellow DCHS Coach Chess Hamby said that it is hard to believe Lacey is gone.
“He was somebody larger than life, with a huge personality, that loved these kids with every last beat of his heart,” Hamby said. “This was his life, more so than any coach in the state can probably say. He lived it every second.”
Hamby said he and Lacey had worked together since Lacey came to DCHS in 2008.
“We coached football and soccer together and he truly was like a big brother coaching with me, he taught me a lot in those nine years,” Hamby said. “He was such a powerful person in so many aspects. Physically, emotionally, the way he reached kids was powerful.”
Taylor Bennett, a DCHS 2015 graduate, was on Lacey’s soccer team during high school.
She said he was rough around the edges, with a heart of gold.
"When you look around you see all of the people that Coach Lacey’s impacted,” Bennett said. “He’s changed almost any kid’s life that’s came through any program that he was connected with, whether it be football or soccer. He was just one of those people, if you knew him you were close to him, that’s how he lived his life. He was one of the most compassionate men I’ve ever met.”
Bennett attended the vigil with fellow members of the class of 2015, Anela Melton and McKay Shively, who along with Bennett play college soccer because of Lacey’s influence.
“He would do anything for anybody in any circumstances,” said Melton. “He’s helped out anybody, he would lend you money, he would pick you up at 10 o’clock at night and do whatever it took to further your future or help you out. He was hard on the outside but very soft on the inside.”
Regan Medlock, who graduated in 2012, didn’t have Lacey as a teacher but even so said his presence brightened her high school years as he taught in the room across the hall.
“Every time he saw me in the hall he’d say ‘Hey Baby!’,” Medlock said. “He will always be awesome, he was the cool coach. He kept me positive in math class and always had a joke and would tell me I could do it. He helped me get through all of high school!”
Medlock said that seeing Lacey’s face on her graduation day was the icing on the cake.
“He always told me he loved me,” she said.
[Lacey] loved these kids with every last beat of his heart,Chess Hamby, Dawson County High School coach
Lacey celebrated his 200th win in the soccer program in March , and was was named the Region 7-AAA Girls Coach of the Year. His fellow coaches voted to award him the honor.
In an interview in March, Lacey said his dream was to die on the field one day after winning a state title.
"This is what I do for life. I coach soccer," he said. "I never could retire. I wake up and I think about how to get this team better."
Lacey was killed in a four-car collision that occurred shortly before 6:30 a.m. Aug. 12 on Ga. 400.
Officials say that all four vehicles, a Dodge Ram pickup, a Subaru, and two dump trucks were all going southbound just past a construction area south of Exit 16.
Lacey, the driver of the pickup, was killed in the crash. His daughter Fallan and her boyfriend Joey Toal were riding in the back seat and were taken to North Fulton Hospital.
Both are juniors at DCHS.
Hamby said Saturday night that Fallan had been released from the hospital where she was treated for a sprained ankle. Toal is being kept overnight with a concussion and a fractured ankle.
One of the two dump truck drivers also received minor injuries in the crash, which closed Ga. 400 for four hours.
Dawson County High School Principal Richard Crumley confirmed the news of Lacey’s death in an email at noon Saturday and said that counselors will be available for students and teachers on Monday as well as over the coming days and weeks.
Information about the funeral service is forthcoming, Crumley said.
"If your child wishes to attend, we strongly encourage you to accompany him or her to the service," Crumley said. "If the funeral is scheduled during school hours, students who wish to attend will need parental permission to be released from school."
DCN regional staff writer Jim Dean contributed to this report.