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Ferris deals with death of coach

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JIM WILLIAMS
Staff Writer
FERRIS - Police Chief Jeff Cottongame called Tuesday, Dec. 4 a 'sad day' for the entire community.

For Cottongame and his police officers, last week's tragic occurrence on Farm-to-Market Road 660 near Ferris High School was more than working an accident scene.

Cottongame said he and his officers had become close to FHS teacher and Coach Michael Tesei, who was in his fourth year working in the FISD.

'I have a couple of officers who were under his tutelage, who were on the scene,' Cottongame said. 'We work all the football games and basketball games. If you live inFerris, you're part of the family.'

Cottongame said he had known Tesei since the coach had first come to Ferris.

'But we had to suck it up and do our job the way we're supposed to.'

'We are saddened by the loss of our friend, coach, teacher and colleague, Mike Tesei,' FISD Superintendent Larry Hairgrove said. 'He will be greatly missed by the faculty members, the student body and the entire community.'

Hairgrove called Tesei an excellent, superb employee.

Hairgrove said students took the news hard. He said the kids really loved this man, but they handled themselves real well the day after.

'We had an extra large group of counselors at school [on Wednesday, Dec. 5],' Hairgrove said.

'We had a large group of teachers ready to talk to students. We had a good response from the community and the youth pastors from the churches.'

Hairgrove said Tesei's students didn't meet in his classroom the day following his death. They met in another part of the building where they did writing assignments about their feelings.

'He was a great math teacher,' Hairgrove said. 'He worked well with kids. He motivated them. They [the students] loved and adored him.

'He was a top-notch coach. He was a key element to our successful football season this year and last year. It [2000] was the first time Ferris has ever made it to regionals.'

The Yellow Jackets won their first-ever area championship with a 47-28 rout of Ballinger on Nov. 24, 2000 at Birdville ISD Fine Arts Complex. Ferris lost in a regional playoff game to Muleshoe, 34-14, the following week at Abilene's Shotwell Stadium.

Hairgrove said they didn't receive any media coverage of last year's accomplishment other than from The Ellis County Press, of which he said does a good job.

The Jackets had a winning season this year, barely missing the playoffs.

Tesei taught algebra. He was offensive coordinator for the varsity football team. He was an assistant basketball coach and head golf coach. He received Ferris' 'Teacher of the Year' honor the first year he was here.

Tesei and Heath Young, 15, and Brandon Lindsey, 15, riding in the coach's white 1989 or '90 Ford Crown Victoria were on their way to pick up some golf clubs and go to practice at the Old Brickyard course in Ferris when the tragic mishap occurred.

Cottongame said Tesei's vehicle was westbound on FM 660, a quarter of a mile east of the school when a Ford pickup truck driven by Ramon Lopez, 18, of unincorporated Ellis County pulling a homemade utility trailer was eastbound on the same road.

According to reports, the trailer became unhitched from the truck and swerved into the westbound lane. The trailer bounced and was airborne when it struck Tesei's car head-on, shearing back the top of the Crown Vic.

Tesei was dead at the scene from blunt force injuries. Young was riding in the front passenger's seat. He was CareFlighted to Methodist Central Medical Center in Dallas where he was listed in critical, but stable condition in the intensive care unit last week after undergoing surgery for his injuries, primarily to his abdomen.

Lindsey, who was in the back seat, was not injured. He helped Young from the vehicle.

'All three vehicles were off the roadway,' Cottongame said. 'The student outside the vehicle was being tended to. There was some confusion with school being let out.'

Cottongame said officers had reconstructed the accident scene. Following the reconstruction, he felt the trailer could have come loose from the truck before it clipped a small guardrail along the roadway.

Lopez did not have a driver's license. Cottongame said alcohol was not involved. Lopez was booked into the Ferris Jail. No bail had been set. Law enforcement officers transported Lopez to a justice of the peace court Friday morning, Dec. 7 for arraignment on a charge of criminal negligent homicide.

Ferris police investigator Mike Reaves said Lopez was an undocumented worker from Mexico and he could face possible deportation.

'The trailer shouldn't even have been on the roadway,' Cottongame said. 'It wasn't registered. There were no lights.'

The chief said the trailer looked like 'a first-year welding project in shop. There were a number of safety violations.'

Fred Huskerson, of the Ferris area, owns the truck and trailer. Lopez, who has been in the U.S. two years, has worked for Huskerson during the past year.

'Huskerson does plumbing work and odd jobs in the area,' Cottongame said. 'He's pretty shook up about it.

'He's a do-it-all kind of guy. He's been here a long time.'

Cottongame said there is a possibility Lopez could be charged with vehicular manslaughter. The police chief said Huskerson could also be charged.

'We're checking into charges [on Huskerson],' Cottongame said. 'He's in violation of allowing an unlicensed person drive his vehicle. We're going to do what the law allows us to do. He [Huskerson] is pretty sick about it. He took him [Lopez] under his wing. He was part of his family.'

The car and trailer were taken to Ed's Garage, 305 E. Ennis Ave. in Ennis.

Hairgrove said Tesei's wife, Rebecca Clark Tesei, a teacher in the Waxahachie ISD at Shackelford Elementary School, is six months pregnant with the couple's first child. Mrs. Tesei has a daughter, Danielle, 9. The family had just moved from Ennis to a new home off Ovilla Road in Red Oak.

'We offer condolences to his family and colleagues at school,' Cottongame said. 'We'll do anything we can to help them get through this.'

Funds were being planned at Ferris High School and Shackelford Elementary to assist the family.

A memorial service was conducted Thursday night, Dec. 6 at First Baptist Church of Ferris. Funeral service was Friday afternoon, Dec. 7 at Waxahachie Bible Church in Waxahachie. Another service was Saturday afternoon, Dec. 8 in Covington, La., followed by burial there. Tesei was a graduate of Block High School in Jonesboro, La. and Louisiana Tech University. He was studying for a master's degree in mid-management at Texas A&M University-Commerce.

'It's odd, but we're hoping we can find something good out of this, that his death was not in vain,' Cottongame said. 'Maybe we can use this as an instructional tool. It's hard to see right now, but in time we may be able to see something good.'

'We appreciate the quick and professional response of our local emergency personnel,' Hairgrove said. 'We are also grateful for the outpouring of sympathy and offers of assistance from neighboring school districts.'

Hairgrove said Tesei was the first Ferris teacher to die on the job since Phil Bryant suffered a fatal heart attack at the junior high a little more than 10 years ago.

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