A Kilgore High School senior died late Sunday night in a wreck in Henderson, leaving many here in mourning and asking ‘Why?’ after the youth reportedly led police on a high-speed chase before his death.
Some aspects of the Aug. 5 incident are still unknown as Tatum Police Department’s investigation continues.
Monday was to be the first practice of the season for the KHS Bulldogs, but the team canceled the session and gathered with members of the coaching staff to honor teammate Chris Ballard.
“Chris was an outstanding young man,” said Kilgore head football coach and athletic director Mike Wood. The teen was a linebacker for the Ragin’ Red. “He was a senior on our football team and one of our leaders. We’re very saddened to lose him. Our football team is very sad to lose him.
“He was just a hardworking young man who had a lot positive things in front of him. It’s a shame that his life had to end.”
The 17-year-old died before midnight Sunday after his vehicle reportedly struck a parked logging truck off the ‘star’ intersection in Henderson.
According to a Tuesday afternoon press release out of Tatum PD, an officer on routine patrol Sunday night spotted a dark-color four-door sedan at about 11 p.m. as it sped southbound on Johnson Street at 83 miles per hour in a 55 MPH zone, based on a radar check.
The officer attempted a traffic stop, but “the driver of the sedan failed to stop and continued to drive at a high rate of speed through the city of Tatum and into Rusk County” toward Henderson on State Hwy. 43. About 20 miles separate the two communities.
Multiple law enforcement agencies were involved in the pursuit or the ensuing crash investigation – Texas Department of Public Safety, Rusk County Sheriff’s Office and Henderson Police Department deferred most questions to Tatum PD.
RCSO Sgt. David Roberts confirmed basic details about the incident based on dashcam footage captured by a Rusk County deputy who joined the pursuit about four miles outside Henderson.
The chased reached speeds of about 115 miles per hour, Roberts said, and at one point the fleeing vehicle moved into the oncoming traffic lane and remained there, evading DPS attempts to deploy spike strips.
From the video, Roberts noted, the vehicle did not slow on its approach to the five-way intersection in Henderson – which police officers had closed to other traffic – traveling straight across and into a parking lot where it struck the log truck tractor-trailer, unoccupied at the time.
Rusk County Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace Jerdy Wolverton pronounced the death at the scene. The body has been sent for an autopsy, and Tatum PD’s investigation is ongoing.
News of Ballard’s death sparked an outpouring of grief on social media as locals struggled to grasp the loss.
First Baptist Church of Kilgore Youth Ministry reached out on social media: “We are with you, and we’re praying for you.” The teenager was a regular with the group, and “FBC stands with the family and friends of Chris Ballard during this time of sorrow and grief. We enjoyed having him with us on Wednesday nights. You are not alone.”
Jake French will miss his friend – the two worked together at Chicken Express, where Ballard “was always laughing, always teasing, always joking, making everybody laugh.”
French, a manager at the franchise, recalled a regular customer with whom Ballard struck up an easy friendship.
“He comes in quite frequently and gets a cup of ice and a cup of water. They’d talk about football and basketball and stats,” French said. “He was a good person. He was a good kid.”
He had a flair for accounting, according to Kilgore High School teacher Sherry Lockman.
"Chris was a great student," she said, the kind who got ahead of schedule in the workbook. "He was kind and had a fabulous smile."
Information on funeral services for the KHS senior was not available at press time Tuesday.
Ballard will be truly missed, Wood said.
“He just had a great personality, had a terrific personality. He had an infectious smile, a terrific smile, just brought smiles to everybody around,” he added. “We’re gonna remember him and honor him throughout the season.
“Our hearts are heavy right now. We’re dealing with that, and we’re gonna miss him.”