Death of Merritt Island teen hits hard

Published March 22, 2012 by Florida Today

Just before the truck flipped, he reached out, pulled her in close and held her so she wouldn’t be flung around the cabin. They weren’t wearing seat belts.

All of a sudden, she was upside down. She called out to Sam.

“I remember saying, ‘Sam, wake up,’ ” Laura Devyn Hall said.

He didn’t.

Sam Jameson Crane, 19, of Merritt Island, was dead. Hall, 17, sprained her wrist and suffered bruises.

“I think he saved my life,” she said.

As word spread about the 9:30 p.m. accident Friday on Merritt Island, Sam’s friends and strangers lit up Facebook with messages of shock and sympathy. Sam was popular and loved, a teen remembered for his infectious smile. For Sam’s family, it was the unthinkable – again. Less than a year ago, on May 31, another son, Jason Hecklinger, died in a wreck on Interstate 95.

“I’m empty,” said Jim Crane, Sam’s father. “I have no sorrow left.”

Sam’s friends created a memorial at N. Banana River Drive and Morgan Drive, near the spot where he died. They brought flowers, beers, candles, whiskey, balloons, fishing lures, motor oil and a channel marker from the nearby Intracoastal Waterway.

Sam and Hall had been headed to Walmart to buy green clothing for St. Patrick’s Day, his father said.

“He looked at me and he said ‘Pop, we’re going to Walmart to get some green stuff,’” Crane said. “They walked out the door and within five minutes, I heard sirens,” Crane said.

The pair were driving south on North Banana River Drive in Sam’s 1984 Chevy pickup. His truck had a lifted suspension and large tires for off-road driving.

Barbara Lieberman, 69, of Cape Canaveral, was driving north on the same road in a 2003 four-door Jaguar, according to a report by Florida Highway Patrol. A dog ran into the road. Lieberman swerved left to avoid the dog, crossing into Sam’s lane. She hit the dog and Sam’s truck.

The report shows Lieberman suffered minor injuries.

“She kind of went under the truck,” Hall said.

The truck flipped, coming to rest on its roof.

Josh Helms has been Sam’s best friend for the past eight years.

“Every time we went somewhere, we both went together,” Helms said.

Helms couldn’t go out with Sam on Friday night because he had to be at work in the morning. Helms was taking a shower when his dad came in and told him a truck flipped. He walked toward the scene.

“Another friend’s dad said ‘you don’t want to go down there, that’s Sam,’ ” Helms said.

“I saw them pulling Devyn out of the car and not him,” Helms said. “That’s when I knew.”

Brittany Villane, 18, dated Sam for two years.

“We went to prom together for his senior year,” Villane said.

Villane was driving to Cocoa Beach with friends when she got the call about what happened. She went straight to his parents’ house where friends and neighbors had gathered.

“You can’t possibly express the things that are felt in this little community,” Crane said.

When he heard about the memorial Sam’s friends had constructed, just three blocks from his house, Crane was reluctant to see it.

“It showed me a part of his life I didn’t know about,” Crane said. “Everybody in this town loved and cared about him.”

Sam worked at EMF, Inc. a metal machining business. Hall said that he helped pay household expenses.

Sam was an outdoorsman. “He liked all the redneck things,” his dad said. “Big trucks, mud, bonfires, the woods.”

Sam had a pit bull named Wrangler.

“We both got puppies together,” his best friend said. “He got the brother to my dog.”

Sam’s friends made small flags with his name to be hung on car antennas. The flags were in small bags, with a note. Sam’s father fought back tears as he read the note:

“Sam, a fisher of men, has left his net to follow Jesus.”