Jake Morgan was celebrating the end of his Publix shift with a Mike’s Hard Strawberry Lemonade when he saw his teary-eyed parents walking toward him.
They said his best friend and the friend’s younger brother, fellow Allatoona High graduates, died Sunday driving back to college.
“I just fell to the ground,” Morgan said Tuesday. “I couldn’t do it.”
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Jack “Deacon” Harris, a 20-year-old Georgia Southern University junior who went by his middle name, and 18-year-old freshman brother Garrett Harris were heading back to Statesboro early Sunday after Thanksgiving break when a 27-year-old driving the wrong way on I-16 in Laurens County smashed into their car, said the Georgia State Patrol. That driver, Jared Adler, of Sandy Springs, was taken to Navicent Health Medical Center in Macon.
The brothers’ deaths left father Jack Harris, mother Crystal Johnson, stepfather Dan Johnson and three younger siblings “utterly devastated,” the family said through a spokesman. “We are an incredibly close-knit family and their bond as brothers was unbreakable.”
The spokesman, Jim Hourigan, knew the family through youth football. As president of the Acworth Football Association, Hourigan said he recruited their father to coach the Harris boys’ teams. They both played on the defensive line.
From April 2016: UGA mourns loss of 4 students killed in crash
Hourigan said the boys’ father played defensive end for Georgia Southern in the late 1980s.
Harris talked to his alma mater’s newspaper, The George-Anne, after the crash.
“They had a little bit of homework to finish up (and) wanted to spend time with their friends before classes started Monday,” he told the student newspaper. “So they left to drive at night thinking traffic would be better.”
The crash happened at 1:15 a.m. About 3½ hours earlier, Morgan and the Harris brothers along with other friends were leaving NCG Cinema in Acworth talking about how much they liked “Thor: Ragnarok.”
The theater isn’t too far from where Morgan and Deacon met as sophomores at Allatoona High School.
The school’s Navy ROTC program took up much of their high school experience. As seniors, Morgan was leading the group and Deacon — who answered to the nickname “Deke” — was his No. 2 in command. Garrett, more shy at the time, was a couple of years behind.
“He relied on Deacon a lot as a younger kid. Deacon always watched out for him,” Morgan said. And while the sentiment didn’t change, it became less necessary.
Garrett wrestled his last year at Allatoona, getting more fit and confident, Morgan said. “He got huge. And it was good for him.”
Hourigan, the family friend, said Garrett chose Georgia Southern in part because his big brother was going there and planned on being a physiologist.
Nick Seymour and his two other friends from Brunswick were all unsure of Deacon when they got him as a fourth random freshman roommate in their Georgia Southern dorm.
“He was very uptight, kind of quiet” and wouldn’t come out of his room much, said Seymour, a 20-year-old mechanical engineering major. That melted away by the end of the first semester, and they had lived together since.
When Garrett joined them at school, Seymour said connection between the brothers became evident. “They were really two of the exact same person.”
The two enjoyed playing video games and talking about the football team, though they didn’t attend games often, despite the family history with the sport.
“Neither one of them was crazy about sports,” Seymour said. They were focused on their grades, he added.
“You know, we would cut up and have fun, but at the end of the day they made sure that their grades were in order and that they were actually getting an education,” he said.
Seymour remembers that Garrett didn’t have a driver’s license when he first got to campus, so he bought himself a skateboard. But he was too skittish to ride it a lot, so they brought it over to the house and they all stayed up late teaching him the basics.
Deacon worked at the school gym cleaning up and acting as a spotter, Seymour said. The brothers would work out every day — even on weekends.
From July 2017: Two Spelman College students killed in wrecks a week apart
“It’s tragic, but it’s almost appropriate that they almost went together,” he said.
Seymour said a state patrolman called a former roommate of theirs to say the brothers had been in a wreck, so Seymour called the Harrises’ father, who told him the grim news.
This is the latest in a string of deadly crashes on I-16. In April and May 2015, back-to-back crashes on the interstate killed 10 people. One killed five nursing students from Georgia Southern heading to their final day of clinical rotations. Two of the five students were from metro Atlanta.
The Harris family has scheduled a memorial service at 4 p.m. Saturday at Cauble Park on Lake Acworth in Acworth.
Seymour said a bunch of folks recently came over to the house to cry and talk about the brothers. After they all left, he was grabbing a glass of water when he saw their dog, Beau, an Australian shepherd.
Beau was sitting in front of Deacon’s room, “kind of like he knew.”
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