South Haven student dies in car crash Sunday

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

SOUTH HAVEN — A South Haven High School student died in a car crash Sunday morning.

Devon Smiley, the high school’s varsity quarterback, died when his car traveled off the road and struck a tree in Ganges Township.

According to the Allegan County Sheriff’s Office, the single-vehicle crash occurred at about 1:20 a.m. in the 1200 block of Blue Star Highway, just south of Creekwood Drive.

A responding deputy checked the vehicle for occupants and only saw Smiley. The 17-year-old sustained severe injuries as a result of the crash and EMS personnel were dispatched to the area. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

The reason for the crash is unknown and remains under investigation. An initial report from the Sheriff’s Office says alcohol and speed do not appear to be a factor in the crash. Assisting the Allegan County Sheriff’s Office was Ganges Fire, Fennville AMR and South Haven Police.

South Haven schools Superintendent Robert Herrera released a statement Sunday regarding Smiley’s death.

“It is with my deepest regret that I report Devon Smiley lost his life in a car accident,” Herrera’s statement read. “Tomorrow our students and faculty will receive grief counseling supports based on their level of need. Please keep our school community in your thoughts and prayers as we manage through this tragic loss.”

The 5-foot-10, 195-pound senior played quarterback for the Rams, who finished with a 3-6 record the past two seasons. Smiley played his last game Oct. 23, which ended with a 22-12 win over Allegan.

Remembering ‘Devo’

South Haven football coach Troy Ayotte said he first heard the news from Smiley’s family Sunday morning.

“We lost a good kid today,” he said. “I’ve coached football for 20 years and I can say he is one of the most unselfish football players I’ve had. He was always about the team and bringing everyone together.”

Ayotte said Smiley was best known for his positive attitude in life, as well as his smile he flashed on a daily basis.

Smiley helped run his coach’s Rocket football camp during the summer. Ayotte said the children at the camp would always gravitate toward Smiley.

“I have two children in Rocket football and the way he would interact with them is something I’ll always remember about him.” Ayotte said. “I only had him for two years, but man, he had an infectious attitude about him. He was one of the few kids who could really pull a community together.”

Smiley was a three-sport athlete, having played baseball and wrestling in addition to football.

South Haven baseball coach Dave McWhinnie said Smiley would take over a room when he walked in.

“It was kind of hard for him to not rub off on you,” McWhinnie said. “He had that huge smile and a lot of energy. Looking at the pictures people are posting of him on all the social media sites, you can see what kind of a person he was. In every one of those pictures, he’s got that Devo smile.”

Hundreds gathered outside of the high school Sunday in remembrance of Smiley and even more have been posting messages of support for Smiley’s family by including the hashtag #DevoStrong in Twitter messages.

Smiley played outfield for South Haven baseball last season and was expected to return to the squad this year. Smiley had a locker next to McWhinnie’s office, where the senior would walk by everyday. It was through those daily occurrences where McWhinnie said he got to know Smiley.

“I’ll always remember he would come in singing some song his dad was playing that had gotten stuck in his head,” McWhinnie said. “It wasn’t some rap song or something new. It would be a Motown song back from my days.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Nov. 2, 2015)

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