Community mourns Benton Harbor 'fixture' killed in crash
BENTON HARBOR, Mich. -- The Benton Harbor community is mourning the loss of a former student turned football coach who was killed in a drunk driving accident Wednesday morning.
Darnell Johnson was part of the football staff and a paraprofessional at Benton Harbor High School, but also worked the overnight shift as a security guard in Niles.
He was heading to work around 3 a.m. when he lost his life to an allegedly drunken wrong-way driver.
Johnson was hit head on by a black SUV driven by a woman going the wrong way on the U.S. 31 bypass in Niles Township.
He was simply doing his typical morning drive to his other job, when the woman - heading northbound on the southbound lanes - slammed into him — throwing him out of his car.
That driver, a 29-year-old woman whose name has not been released, was arrested and taken to the hospital. Johnson died on scene.
Johnson was born and raised in Benton Harbor. Both of his parents are part of the school faculty and he came back to work at his Alma mater.
His death leaves heartache and a void in the community.
“He’s been a fixture for at least a decade,” said Danny Jennings, Varsity Baseball Coach & Assistant Football Coach. “He’s whatever we need, whatever you need, however he can contribute to an overall cause of Benton Harbor Area Schools progressing.”
Jennings also says Johnson, who many called Trey, was committed to the success of the next generation of Tigers both on the field and off — even wearing the mascot costume for commencement this summer.
“Trey was always willing to do whatever was necessary. We were actually just giving him a hard time last month about being in the Tiger uniform at graduation. It was like ‘Hey man, you could’ve told them no, it was pretty hot that day’ but he was like ‘No they asked me, that’s who I am.’”
The hardest part to reconcile, Jennings says, is the senseless way Johnson lost his life.
“This is not a case of him doing something wrong that put him in this situation where he lost his life, this is him going to work,” said Jennings. “Him leaving football yesterday and probably resting and getting ready to go to work. Just a normal day, his normal routine, and we lose him.”
The woman who hit Johnson remains in the hospital and is facing drunk driving charges.