Alcorn State student dies in weather-related wreck with fallen tree

Jayla Gray
Jayla Gray

Storms moving across the Gulf Coast region with howling wind and pounding rain were blamed for at least two deaths and left nearly 110,000 homes and businesses without electricity early Thursday.

An Alcorn State college student died in a weather-related wreck near Port Gibson, Mississippi, about 60 miles southwest of Jackson. In Texas, a sheriff’s deputy answering a call about a water rescue died after her patrol car ran into floodwaters covering a road and landed upside down, authorities said.

The Mississippi Department of Public Safety said Alcon State University student Jayla A. Gray, 19, of Jackson died early Thursday when the car in which she was a passenger struck a tree that had fallen across a highway near the town of Port Gibson.

The driver and another passenger escaped injury, the agency said in a statement. Public Safety spokesman Kervin Stewart said the three were returning to campus after a Halloween party and early-morning meal; Gray was wearing a seatbelt at the time of the wreck.

Alcorn State issued a release, saying individual and group counseling services are available to students, faculty, and staff through the university’s counseling center.

Gray was a sophomore, elementary education major from Jackson. She was active with both the gospel and concert choirs.

“The passing of a student deeply affects the entire Alcorn family and is especially difficult and heartbreaking,” an Alcorn statement said. “Alcorn sends our deepest sympathies and prayers to Jayla’s parents, family, and friends. We give thanks for her life and for the scholastic talents and vitality that she brought to Alcorn. We will keep our memories of her alive in our hearts and ask the Alcorn community to keep all of Jayla’s loved ones and friends along with faculty, staff, and students, in their thoughts and prayers.”

Troopers said weather was a factor in the wreck, which happened just minutes after a storm toppled trees near Kevin Bryant’s mobile home a few miles away in Port Gibson. Daybreak revealed a shattered community littered with broken trees and pieces of buildings, said Bryant, who was not hurt.

“It tore up trees and old businesses that had been sitting awhile. Everybody is without power,” he said. “It definitely woke you up. That wind was howling.”

In Louisiana, at least two other people were sent to a hospital because of a possible tornado touchdown in Louisiana.

The Storm Prediction Center reported trees and utility lines down across a wide area from eastern Texas to northwest Alabama, and radar showed storms reaching from the Gulf Coast to the Ohio Valley. The storms were linked to a cold front that sent temperatures sharply lower once the line passed.

In Texas, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office posted on Facebook that Deputy Loren Vasquez, 23, had been on solo patrol for only three nights when her patrol car ran into water on a road and flipped late Wednesday while answering a rescue call.

Other deputies tried to free her from the overturned vehicle but couldn’t.

“Words will never express what our office is going thru and we can only ask for your prayers,” said a statement by Sheriff R. Glenn Smith posted on the site.

Two people were taken to a hospital when a mobile home that flipped west of Bogalusa, Louisiana, said Bobbi Jo Breland, assistant director of the Washington Parish office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness said in an email. She did not know the extent of their injuries.

A roof collapsed on a nearby home and one person had to be rescued there, Breland said.

High winds downed power lines and flipped trampolines in east Texas before the storms entered the Southeast.

Storms toppled tents being set up for an oyster cook-off planned for this weekend in Gulf Shores, Alabama, and powerful gusts stripped leaves from trees near Birmingham.

At least 110,000 customers were without power as the storms moved eastward, but crews restored electricity to thousands as conditions improved. The biggest problems were in central and eastern Louisiana and western Mississippi.

Schools were delayed in the New Orleans area and other parts of southeastern Louisiana. Multiple school systems in Alabama and Mississippi canceled or delayed classes because of the weather threat.

Classes were cancelled in Mississippi’s Natchez-Adams School District after storms damaged homes and tore down trees.

AP writers Jack Jones in Columbia, South Carolina, and David Warren in Dallas contributed to this report.