DEFUNIAK SPRINGS — Students and faculty at West DeFuniak Elementary School spooned up servings of ice cream Monday in honor of their classmate, Micah Goldsmith.
The idea to have a cold treat was voiced following a two-hour memorial at which the school attempted to come to grips with the death Saturday of the talented and bubbly fourth-grader, who died with two others in a church bus accident near Chipley.
“One of the students said, ‘I wish I had ice cream. Ice cream makes everything better,’ ” said principal Darlene Paul. “So we had ice cream.”
At West DeFuniak, as well as at nearby Maude Saunders Elementary, grief counselors were called in to help students struggling to cope with the deaths of 11-year-old Micah and 8-year-old Maliya Chrishon.
Maliya, whom her cousin Tabitha Green described as a “big ol’ goof ball” that “loved to make people laugh,” was a third-grader at Maude Saunders.
“She was a very precious young lady, very sincere, who worked very hard,” said principal Tracey Dickey. “We will certainly miss her.”
Both girls were on their way to a Gospel of the Kingdom Church function when a tire blew on the 2001 Dodge van in which they were passengers.
The van slid across the median and westbound lanes of Interstate 10 and flipped several times before coming to rest on the shoulder of the road.
Patricia Baker, a 56-year-old who called Fort Walton Beach home on her Facebook page, also died in the accident.
Baker lived in DeFuniak Springs and worked as a correctional officer at the state prison located in north Walton County, acquaintances said.
The Bay County Medical Examiner’s Office conducted external examinations of all three bodies Monday and anticipates releasing them to funeral homes today, said investigator Whit Majors.
Ten people were traveling in the van that left DeFuniak Springs at 7:34 a.m., Saturday, apparently bound for Tallahassee for a women’s group conference.
Dr. Willie Blackmon, who with his wife, Pastor Brenda Blackmon, runs the Gospel of the Kingdom Church, would say only that the event was “an outing” but did confirm that he is the owner of the van that wrecked.
“The police report has been released to the insurance company,” Blackmon said before hanging up to tend to phone calls from church members grieving the loss of friends and family.
Only two on the bus — driver Martha Bramlet and Sophia Livingston, a 6-week-old infant — were wearing seat belts, according to a Florida Highway Patrol news release.
Micah’s mother, Akyra Eiland, was critically injured in the accident. She remains unresponsive, according to David Goldsmith, Micah’s father.
Eiland, 30, has been placed in the Bay Medical Center surgical ICU unit, hospital officials said.
The 11-year-old’s grandmother, Dorothy Turner, 55, is also in the Bay Medical Center surgical ICU unit. Goldsmith said Turner, listed in serious condition, is responding well to treatment.
Deshaunna Glenn, 33, and Taquita Davis, 32, both taken from the accident scene in serious condition, have been released, Bay Medical officials said.
Bramlet, the 49-year-old driver, suffered only minor injuries, as did Kayla Glenn, 11, who was listed as riding in the passenger seat of the van at the time the accident occurred.
Family, friends grieving for two dead girls
David Goldsmith wept openly as he spoke of his 11-year-old daughter Micah, her love of life and her talent for singing.
“She was the ultimate kid. She loved to make people laugh. They loved going to church, praising the Lord and singing. Singing, that came natural to her.”
Micah was a cheerleader and a member of the West DeFuniak Elementary K-kids with an association to the area’s Kiwanis Club.
Nearly everyone at West DeFuniak Elementary knew Micah, said school principal Darlene Paul.
“That little girl had a beautiful smile. It could light up a room,” she said.
Goldsmith and Micah’s mother, Akyra Eiland, were no longer a couple at the time of Micah’s tragic death Saturday in a van accident on Interstate 10 near Chipley.
Goldsmith said the domestic situation didn’t allow him to see his daughter every day, but when he did it was like the two had never parted company.
“She loved her grandma and her mother and her daddy like no other,” he said.
At West DeFuniak Elementary, school officials took two hours to speak to students and memorialize Micah, Paul said. Students were encouraged to leave cards or some other expression of love at the deceased girl’s desk.
“It has turned into a memoriam,” Paul said. “Her desk is full of posters, poems and pictures.”
At nearby Maude Saunders Elementary, similar efforts were made Monday to celebrate the life of third-grader Maliya Chrishon.
“We went in and spoke to the class and had grief counselors here,” said Tracey Dickey, the principal at Maude Saunders Elementary.
Both girls had extended family at the schools they attended, and Dickey said the consolation reached into several classrooms where siblings and cousins of the two wreck victims were missing school to grieve.
Goldsmith has made the effort to set up a fund to help cover funeral expenses for his daughter and other costs for his family. He said an account in his name has been established at the Army Aviation Federal Credit Union branch in DeFuniak Springs.