Deaths at Tarleton continue to rise
Tarleton State University just laid to rest its eighth family member this year on Nov. 11.
Over the past six years, the Tarleton family has faced tragedy after the deaths of classmates, professors and fellow Tarleton Texans.
And the number of deaths has risen by 400 percent since 2010.
Tarleton is grieving the loss of McKenzie Cox, a freshman track and field runner, who died Nov. 4.
Dr. Brenda Faulkner, director of the student counseling center, said, “People fear death more than anything else. When someone dies, everyone looks at their own mortality as they grieve the loss. The Tarleton student body and the Tarleton family are no different.”
During recent months, Texan News scoured obituaries, news articles and other documents for information about members of the Tarleton family who’ve died in recent years. Texan News staffers found:
In 2010, two students passed away. Football player Zachary Shaver, 18, died March 29 after a head on collision at a spring practice. Vanessa Rangel, 21, died Sept. 2 in a car accident on Highway 67.
In 2011, one Tarleton Texan passed away. ROTC and Army Reserve Veteran Abrel Hicks, 21, died on June 6 in a car accident on U.S. Highway 377.
In 2012, five members of the Tarleton family passed away. Tarleton’s sports announcer for 15 years, Ron Newsome, 68, nicknamed “The Sports Doctor” according to tarletonsports.com, died April 17. Football recruit Cody Stephens, 18, died May 6 from cardiac arrest a few months before playing for the Tarleton Texans the next fall. Student Hayley Burns, 20, died June 3 after drowning in Lake Whitney. Student Brandon Bailey, 19, died July 5 after a fireworks accident. Animal science professor Don Henneke, 60, died Nov. 16 from cancer.
In 2013, four more students died. Students Kimberly Peacock, 19, and Courtney Smalley, 18, died April 28 in a car accident on U.S. Highway 281 that also killed a former Tarleton student and his wife. On May 1, student Anthony Gonzales, 26, died in a car accident on Highway 6. Student Bailey Gasch, 21, died Aug. 31 in a horse riding accident.
In 2014, five students, faculty and staff died. Student Michael McLearen, 19, died Jan. 27 in a car accident on County Road 435. Student Alexander Sikes, 20, died May 13 in a car accident on U.S. Highway 281. Tarleton football “team mom” Cheryl Spellmeier, 57, died July 28 in a car accident after church. Student Sade Lowery, 20, died Sept. 1 in a car accident on U.S. Highway 281. Tarleton Professor Christopher Guthrie, 65, died Nov. 3 of cancer.
In 2015, five students died. Tarleton football player Camron Owens, 21, was found unresponsive in his dorm on Jan. 13. Teressa Holman, a student at Tarleton’s Waco campus, 39, died March 21 in a Temple hospital. Tarleton football player Christain Champine, 20, died May 7 in a car accident when going home on Highway 164. Student Thomas Cascella, 24, died June 30 in Fort Worth. Student Zachary Moore, 37, died Dec. 19 at home.
So far in 2016, there have been eight deaths – the most so far in a single year. Professor Gay Wakefield, 64, died Jan. 25 in her sleep. Student Tannia Solis, 20, died March 11 in White Settlement. Former football player Brayden Coverdale, 21, died March 13 in Orange Beach, Fl. on spring break. Student Daniel Jones, 22, died April 6 during a seizure in class. Sociology professor Leslee Stanley-Stevens, 55, died June 22 in her home. Alex Sanchez, 21, died June 26 in a car accident on U.S. Highway 281. Student Hannah Russell, 21, died July 21 in a car accident on Highway 67. Student McKenzie Cox, 18, died Nov. 4 in a car accident on Highway 67.
The number of deaths has risen by four times the amount it was in 2010 and eight times the amount it was in 2011.
Faulkner said, “Tarleton State University has experienced tremendous growth in the past 7-10 years. Unfortunately, increased enrollment could be an explanation for the increased number of deaths.”
In fall of 2010, Tarleton had a student body of 9,360 according to Tarleton’s website. This fall, Tarleton has 13,036 students enrolled. This is an increase of 39 percent compared to the 400 percent increase in deaths.
By month, there is a slight pattern as well. In six years, three students died in January and zero in February. In March, there were five deaths. In April and May, there were four. In June, there were five. July had three deaths, August had one and September had three. There were no deaths in October, three deaths in November and one in December. This means that March, April, May and June all have higher death rates than other times of the year.
Of the 30 deaths, 11 were automobile accidents. Of these 11, five were on U.S. Highway 281 and three were on Highway 67.
Nine of the 30 deaths reported in the last six years had affiliation with the Tarleton n Athletic Department. Shaver was the first, who died after a fluke head on collision at football practice in 2010. Newsome passed away two years later, after 15 years as the Tarleton sports announcer. A few short weeks later, Stephens, a recently recruited redshirt, died in his sleep of cardiac arrest. In the summer of 2014, the team also lost their “team mom,” Spellmeier, in an accident involving a tractor-trailer. Owens, a transfer to Tarleton, was found unresponsive in his dorm and later died at the beginning of 2015. Yet again, the team lost another teammate, Champine, in a car accident on Highway 164. During this year’s spring break, former Tarleton football player and Texas Tech transfer-student, Coverdale died in Orange Beach, Fl. This summer, Sanchez died driving on U.S. Highway 281. Most recently, Cox died driving on Highway 67.
Lonn Reisman, athletics director and head coach for men’s basketball, says each death is like losing a family member because, “you bond and work hard and compete with each other and become a family. Whether it’s an athletic program or in the athletic department, we are all a family,” he said.
After the most recent passing of Cox, Tarleton and athletics are grieving again.
Faulkner said, “Elisabeth Kubler-Ross identified five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Certainly, there are no definitive time limits for the stages and different people may not go through them in sequence, and sometimes it may become necessary to revisit a stage to feel like we have adequately grieved. Very few people set aside time in their daily lives to grieve any loss, but particularly the loss of a loved one.”
Reisman said, “When you have a tragic accident that takes the life of a student-athlete, it’s a very emotional time. It’s a time where we reflect and we remember the relationships we built with our teams. When you lose a teammate, it’s a tough time and very emotional for everyone. We think about those families and the teammates of the student-athletes and we pray for them. We remember the good things that they did and what they meant to our university and athletic programs. We play in their memory in how they would want us to compete and how they would want us to go out each day and live our lives.”
Faulkner says the Tarleton family has continued to stay strong throughout the tragedies. “On the Tarleton campus or any campus, students live with each other, learn together, are mentored by our faculty and staff members and, in that process, they develop relationships that carry them through major life changes – graduations, careers, marriages, parenthood. I have seen the Tarleton family honor those that we have lost by making a commitment to do well academically and uphold the traditions and core values that make Tarleton the cohesive family that it is,” she said.