EAST MANATEE — As a light rain fell late Monday morning, a dark cloud hovered over Braden River High School.
Outside the building’s main entrance off State Road 70, three flags flew at half staff, and the wind howled through nearby trees.
The school’s interior ironically mirrored nature’s gloom outside.
A slew of students and faculty wore all black in memory of Douglas J. Garrity, an assistant football coach who died late Saturday night after a single-vehicle crash in south Sarasota County.
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Garrity’s death is a shock and tough loss for the Pirates family, Braden River principal Jim Pauley said Monday as he sat behind his desk dressed in black.
“The adults and students are struggling . . . grieving,” Pauley said. “It’s a very tight community here. Everybody knows everybody.”
Garrity, 27, of Bradenton, died after he was thrown from the back seat of a 2001 Ford truck driven by Braden River head football coach Joshua Lee Hunter.
Florida Highway Patrol troopers are investigating if the wreck was alcohol-related. Hunter, 32, of Bradenton, and two other passengers in the car — Matthew E. Braselton, 26, of Bradenton, and James E. Hunter, 38, of Myakka City – were not injured.
Garrity, who taught dropout prevention, was a second-year teacher and defensive line coach for the Pirates. He also was an assistant coach for the school’s weightlifting team, which won the Manatee County Championships on Monday night at Lakewood Ranch. In remembrance, white tape covered each team member’s wrists, the letters “D.G.” etched onto one and “R.I.P.” on the other. Black weightlifting T-shirts continued the salute with white lettering spelling out “Garrity” on the back. Head coach Chad Coate gathered his squad into a separate weight room for a moment of silence before the event. He said they held a silent prayer and talked about winning for Garrity.
“It was definitely a rallying cry,” the first-year coach said.
Crisis teams met with the school’s football team and Garrity’s students Monday to console them. Manatee County School District spokeswoman Margi Nanney said counselors would be on hand throughout the week.
Pauley called Garrity a soft-spoken, big teddy bear who was respected by students.
“He had a passion for those kids,” Pauley said.
While teachers Monday jumped in to cover Garrity’s classes, counselors from neighboring schools stopped by Braden River High to see if their help was needed.
“The district family has been here for us,” Pauley said.
Hunter was not in school Monday, but Pauley said he spoke with Hunter’s wife, Anne.
“Coach Hunter is actually very upset,” said Pauley, who added that he did not know how long he would be out.
Pauley said Hunter and Garrity had been in Sarasota for a get-together at the home of a Venice High School coach prior to the crash.
He said he did not know additional details about the evening.
Hunter was driving north on State Road 681, entering the on-ramp of Interstate 75 near Nokomis about 11:50 p.m., when he failed to negotiate a curve in the roadway, according to troopers.
The truck overturned, and Garrity was ejected from the back seat. He was taken to Doctors Hospital in Sarasota where he later died.
Garrity and James Hunter, Josh Hunter’s brother, were not using their seat belts, troopers said. Braselton, who sat in the front passenger seat, is a defensive line coach at Southeast High School.
FHP Spokesman Chris Miller said troopers drew Josh Hunter’s blood and sent it to a lab for drug and alcohol testing. No sobriety tests were given at the scene, and no arrest had been made by Monday, Miller said.
Garrity graduated from Bayshore High in 2000 and from Valdosta State University in Georgia in 2006.
Mario Valcarcel, a former athletic director at Bayshore, called Garrity a good kid from a good family.
Garrity was single and lived at home with his stepmother and father in Bradenton. They could not be reached for comment.
Garrity, Valcarcel said, played on the offensive line for Bayshore.
“He was more than an athlete, he was a great kid ... had a great family,” Valcarcel said. “A wonderful young man you were happy to be around with all the time.”
Jason Dill, Herald correspondent, contributed to this report.