Harlem High students honor classmate who died

Many at Harlem High School abandoned the Bulldogs’ red and black in favor of the University of Florida’s signature blue and orange as they mourned a classmate Wednesday.

Harlem High senior Johnny Hartman died Tuesday in a single-car crash in Appling. Authorities say the 18-year-old ran off Scotts Ferry Road, over-corrected, then flipped his Toyota 4Runner several times before hitting a tree.

The wreck occurred about 3 p.m., and Columbia County Deputy Coroner Bonnie Holloway said Hartman died about seven hours later at Medical College of Georgia Hospital of head trauma.

Knowing Hartman was an avid fan of the University of Florida, Harlem students wore the Gators’ colors Wednesday.

“He was just such a great young man,” said Hartman’s basketball coach Kim Chambers, who wore an orange T-shirt and a khaki cap bearing the Gators logo. “He was the kind of kid you’d want your daughter to date.”

Hartman played basketball, football and tennis, but what made Hartman special, Chambers said, was his work ethic.

“That’s why I gave him the coach’s award (this past season),” he said. “He always gave it his all. He didn’t seek out any glory. He just did what he could to help his team win.”

Chambers’ teammates signed a basketball Wednesday in honor of Hartman and intend to give it to his parents, the Rev. Steve Hartman, of Kiokee Baptist Church, and his wife, Susan.

“God got a new angel (Tuesday),” Chambers said of the teen he described as a strong Christian.

Hartman’s death came 11 days before his high school graduation. He became the area’s second high school senior to die in a single-car crash in three days. Burke County High School football player Denzell Warthen was ejected from his vehicle and killed in an early-morning accident near Midville on Saturday.

Several of Hartman’s classmates wrote notes to him on a large orange banner in the school’s commons area. They plan to take the banner with them to their graduation ceremony May 19.

Among the first to sign the banner was basketball and soccer star Jade Cotton.

The 18-year-old said she had known Hartman since the seventh grade, but became good friends with him this school year as they sat next to each other in a class.

“When I first heard about (the crash), I was really worried,” Cotton said as she fought tears. “Later, when I found out he died, I just broke down and cried.

“He had just raised the money to go on our senior trip to Panama City (Fla.). We were all so happy he was going to go.”

On Wednesday, school system psychologists were on hand as school counselors tried to help students and teachers manage their grief.

“All the kids loved him, but so did all his teachers,” said Harlem Principal Dietmar Perez. “He was a fabulous young man.”

Hartman was named the school’s prom king last month.

“He was so good to everybody. I don’t think there was anybody who didn’t like him,” said school safety officer Mike Leverett. “Even the bad kids liked him.”

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