NEW PORT RICHEY (FOX 13) - A teenager was flown to the hospital in critical condition Wednesday after being hit by a car driven by a teacher, investigators said.
Pasco County school officials identified the teen only as "Jeffery." The crash happened just before 7 a.m. in the intersection of School Road and Madison Street in New Port Richey, Florida, which is near Gulf High School.
New Port Richey police said the teen is a 9th-grader at the school, who crossed the street without using a crosswalk.
Minutes after the final bell rang, students gathered near the scene of the crash.
"He's just a loving, caring kid that would do anything for anybody," said Vincent Bavero, one of Jeffery's friends. "It's kind of rough to think about something happening like that to such a close person, and I've seen a lot of stuff, but that's probably one of the worst."
"I was like, 'It can't be Jeff.' Jeff is really careful about what he's doing. And then when my dad told me that, I just lost it. I started crying," added Jaden Woodward, another friend. "I'm really, really hopeful because I don't want anything to happen to Jeff."
A district spokesperson said the driver is a Gulf High Language Arts teacher and soccer coach, who didn't see the student crossing the street.
According to New Port Richey police, the teen walked in front of the vehicle and speed doesn't appear to be a factor. Investigators said headphones were found at the scene, but it's unclear whether the student was using it.
"It's awful, just thinking how bad that teacher feels. They didn't mean to [do it]," said Zachary Scott, a student at Gulf High School.
The teen was said to be 'unresponsive' after the crash and was airlifted to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa. District leaders said he was in surgery Wednesday morning, shortly after the crash.
Friends are praying Jeffery pulls through.
"I just don't want to have to miss him," Bavero said.
Police said the teacher is fully cooperating with the investigation. Crisis counselors will be at the school as long as it's necessary.
Wednesday evening, the student's mother, Ashley Thomas posted a message and photo of her son on Facebook, which she gave us permission to share.
She said, "Please share this if you don't want your child walking to school in the dark. My 15 yr old son was hit by a car walking to school. I want to be clear on the factors that apply here. He was walking at 6:30 am to school we live just under 2 miles from his school (1.9 miles). Due to this he can not ride a bus, it is very dark at 6:30 am here and my child just woke up. He was groggy as always at that time."
She continued, saying, "He walked his usual route and did not see a car coming and was hit. I do not blame the driver. However I as a mother feel NO CHILD should have to walk that far at that time. I want our children to be able to get to school safely. I don't care how it is done but I want that law changed. They can provide buses or they can change the time to later or even provide crossing guards at all intersections any child has to cross."
Thomas ended by saying, "My child might be permanently brain damaged I don't know yet. Only time will tell, I just need to make sure it doesn't happen to yours. Please help me share so the word gets out. I am fighting for these children, mine and yours!"