Lamar Whitson III, a teacher and coach at Valley Heights High School, died Friday afternoon in a car crash four miles east of Riley. He was 48.
The crash occurred around 1 p.m. Friday at U.S. 24 mile marker 302, according to Kansas Highway Patrol.
Daniel Joseph Gray, 29, of Lawrence, attempted a left turn in his 2013 Ford Focus while heading northbound on U.S. 24 and collided with a 2004 GMC Yukon driven by Whitson as he headed southbound on U.S. 77.
Emergency officials took Jill Whitson, who also was in the Yukon, to Stormont Vail Hospital for a “suspected serious injury.” The report didn’t indicate that the other passengers, Haylee Whitson, 18, and Emma Whitson, 12, were taken to the hospital.
Gray and his passenger, Chelsie Marie Hallgrimson, 25, of Tonganoxie, had no injuries. Everyone in both vehicles had on their seatbelts.
Valley Heights opened the high school commons Saturday morning to provide counseling in the mourning of Whitson.
Shortly after news of his death, some close to Whitson celebrated his life, and the influence he had on them, on social media.
That included multi-sport athlete Emma Yungeberg, a freshman thrower who won the Class 2A title in girls javelin and placed in the top 10 in both shot put and discus at the state meet last week in Wichita. (Whitson, an assistant coach for Valley Heights’ track & field program, tutored the throwers.)
Yungeberg also was an All-Flint Hills third-team selection for basketball — the only freshman to earn a spot on one of the three teams — after averaging 10 points and eight rebounds per game last season.
“Coach.... you will never know what an impact you had on me,” Yungeberg tweeted. “I’ll work every day to make you proud. Try not to make fun of me too much up there.”
One of Yungeberg’s teammates on the basketball team, Emma Toerber, also took to Twitter to remember Whitson.
“(T)his weekend all in glory for him,” wrote Toerber, an All-Flint Hills third-team basketball selection after averaging 9 points and 4.5 rebounds a game for the Mustangs in 2018-19. “(E)verything he did was for all the kids at Valley Heights and his own kids. The impact you had on us was more than you know. Thank you Coach Whitson and fly high.”
Bryan Yungeberg, who averaged 14.3 points and five rebounds per outing on Valley Heights’ boys basketball team during his senior season in 2017-18, said he “couldn’t put into words” how much Whitson meant to him.
“You were an amazing coach, teacher, and one of the greatest individuals I’ve ever met,” Yungeberg wrote. “I’m so blessed to have had you as a mentor in my life. Hope I can be half the person you were. Rest In Peace Coach Whit.”
Adam Plummer, the head coach for the varsity girls basketball team at Rock Creek, said he was thankful for the bond he forged with Whitson.
“In this confusing and messy life you were a major bright spot,” Plummer wrote on Twitter. “Blessed to have taught and coached with you. Always admired your commitment to faith and family. Proud to call you my friend. Praying for your wonderful family.”
The Valley Heights community held a candlelight vigil for Whitson’s family Saturday night at the high school football field.