A former standout athlete at Raceland-Worthington High School was killed Saturday evening in a one-vehicle accident on Interstate 64 in Clark County.

Timothy Coleman “Cole” Thomas, 18, a freshman at the University of Pikeville, was pronounced dead at Clark Regional Medical Center shortly after the crash, which occurred about 7:45 p.m. in the eastbound lanes of I-64, about five miles east of Winchester, Clark County Sheriff Berl Perdue Jr. said.

According to Perdue, Thomas was traveling eastbound in a Chevrolet Blazer when the vehicle veered across the median, overturned several times and came to rest against the westbound guardrail. Thomas was ejected from the vehicle, he said.

The accident remains under investigation, but Perdue said preliminary findings indicate it may have been caused by low tire pressure. No avoidance maneuvers were detected and no human factors were cited by investigators, he said.

Word of Thomas’ death sent shockwaves throughout the Raceland community. On Sunday, his family and friends gathered at the Raceland-Worthington High School football field, where Thomas had played many games, to remember him with a candlelight vigil.

Thomas was also the reigning Class A Region 7 shot put champion and placed second in the state Class A track and field championships at the University of Louisville in May. Thomas’ efforts at the regional meet also helped boost the Rams to their first team title since 2009.

Thomas’ talents as a shot putter earned him an athletic scholarship to UPike. He and his friend and teammate, John Valencourt, a runner, both were approached by Pikeville men’s track coach John Biery during last year’s Area 7 Track and Field Championships at Paul G. Blazer High School.

Biery on Monday said he was devastated by Thomas’ death.

“He was always uplifting ... just a quality person,” he said. “The world’s going to miss Cole Thomas. He just made it a better place. He had so much to offer. It’s just so tragic to lose someone like that at such a young age.”

Biery also said Thomas’ athletic ability and character both would be impossible for him to replace.

“Our future was bright with him,” he said.

Although Thomas had graduated, he still had many friends at RWHS who were in mourning over his passing Monday, said Mickey Dixon, principal.

“He was really liked in our community and loved by our staff here at the school,” he said. “He was just a very respectful young man.”

Thomas could seem intimidating because of his size — he was 6 feet, 6 inches tall and weighed 340 pounds — but, in reality, he was a “gentle giant” who treated everyone with kindness, Dixon said.

On Monday, a school-wide collection drive for Thomas’ family raised nearly $550, and “We had some kids asking if we could do it again (on Tuesday,)” Dixon said.

Thomas’ family has deep roots in the Raceland community and with the high school. His mother, Christy Hewlett Reed, played basketball at RWHS under Coach Randy Vanderhoof and went on to play college hoops at Sue Bennett College. His maternal grandfather, Mike Hewlett, longtime president of United Steelworkers of America Local 1865, which represents hourly employees of AK Steel’s Ashland Works, was a multi-sport athlete at the high school.

Visitation for Thomas will be from 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday in the old high school gymnasium. His funeral will be at 1 p.m. Wednesday at the same location. Evans Funeral Home of Raceland is in charge of arrangements.

In lieu of flowers, the family is requesting donations be made to the Coleman Thomas Memorial Fund at First & Peoples Bank and Trust in Greenup.

Also, a benefit event for Thomas’ family featuring live music, food and an auction will be at 1 p.m. April 5 in the old high school gym. Donations for the auction are being accepted at the Worthington City Building and at the Greenup County Detention Center, where Thomas’ stepfather, Kenneth Reed, is a long-time deputy jailer. For more information, call (606) 473-9660.

KENNETH HART can be reached at khart@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2654.

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