Two star SEC athletes are now linked to two tragic incidents

Reckless decisions by Alabama’s Brandon Miller and Georgia’s former Jaylen Carter led to disastrous consequences. The cautionary tales that came before theirs one morning in mid-January seemed to have escaped them both.

There’s an eerie, tragic thread now running between Brandon Miller and Jaylen Carter. They are star Southeastern Conference athletes who, according to police, are lucky to be alive. Early in the morning in mid-January, at almost the exact same time, hundreds of miles apart, Miller and Carter were allegedly flirting with death by disturbingly negligent behavior.

At 2:45 am ET on Sunday, Jan. 15, authorities in Athens, Ga., responded to a call for a single-vehicle crash on Barnett Shoals Road. They found a Ford Expedition that had gone off the road and plowed into two power poles and several trees. The crash killed Georgia football player Devin Wheelock and football staffer Chandler LeCroy, who police say was speeding with a blood alcohol level of 0.197, twice the legal limit.

At 1:45 am CT that morning, shots were fired in downtown Tuscaloosa in a gunfight near a busy entertainment district. The shootout ended with Jamea Jonae Harris dead at the scene. A former Alabama basketball player, Darius Miles, is charged with manslaughter after allegedly providing the gun to his friend and alleged triggerman, Michael Davis.

It was a freak coincidence, a freak moment in time, in two idyllic SEC cities 275 miles apart. A horrific reminder of the fragility of life and the consequences of terrible decision-making by young adults.

Carter was part of Georgia’s national championship teams.

Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports

Weeks later, the two stories have taken a terrifying turn. News emerged linking Carter and Harris to the two tragedies. Two athletes, just months away from life-changing fortunes hanging in front of them, allegedly risked it all with tragic recklessness. Last week, it was Alabama basketball player Miller, one of the projected top five NBA draft picks. This week, it’s former Georgia football player Carter, who is projected by many as the No. 1 prospect in the NFL draft.

Miller allegedly drove the murder weapon to the scene of the shooting in Tuscaloosa. Miles texted him asking. According to a statement from Miller’s attorney, Jim Standridge, Miller was already on his way to the scene to pick up Miles when the text came, and Miller had no idea Miles intended to use the gun. Standridge said Miller never left his car, and police said Miller’s windshield was hit by two bullets in the fight, meaning his life was in immediate danger.

Miller and his teammate Jaden Bradley, who was also at the crime scene, are not facing criminal charges at this time. They have also unruly passed by Alabama, which did not reveal their presence on the set. That revelation has sparked a weeklong firestorm that has engulfed one of the top teams in college basketball.

That same early morning in Athens, Carter, in his own car, reportedly raced LeCroy just hours after the football team’s second straight national championship was celebrated with fans at Sanford Stadium. Police allege that they were driving at breakneck speeds and that the two cars “changed lanes, drove into the center turn lane, drove into opposing lanes of traffic, overtook other drivers and drove at high rates of speed in an apparent attempt to outrun each other.” » On Wednesday, when the defensive tackle was scheduled to meet the media at the NFL Combine, police issued an arrest warrant for Carter on two misdemeanor counts of reckless driving and racing.

Carter issued a statement later Wednesday that said, in part, “multiple media reports also circulated this morning that contained inaccurate information about the tragic events of January 15, 2023. It is my intention to return to Athens to answer the allegations for defamation against me and to ensure that the full and accurate truth is presented. There is no doubt in my mind that when all the facts are known, I will be completely cleared of any criminal wrongdoing.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Wednesday that Carter was cited three times last fall for traffic violations—parking in a handicap zone, failure to obey a traffic control device and going 89 in a 45 mph zone. That speeding citation resulted in a fine of more than $1,000, the newspaper reported.

I have driven Barnett Shoals Road many times. For a few years, my son lived in an apartment complex on this street while he was a student at Georgia. Driving at 100 mph there is tempting a tragic fate. About half a mile from this apartment complex is where the alleged January car race came to a fatal end.

While Miller and innocent bystanders were lucky not to get hit by gunfire in Tuscaloosa, Carter was reportedly lucky to keep his vehicle out of harm’s way in Athens — for him and other motorists.


Miller has not faced any disciplinary action in connection with a shooting incident in Tuscaloosa.

Marvin Gentry/USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Post had a story Tuesday about new research on brain development over a human lifetime. A quote from the story: “Neural networks are constantly sharpened and adapted in young adulthood, especially those involved in rational thinking and considering future consequences.” At college age, we are brain works in progress.

Miller is 20 and Carter is 21, ages when decision-making can be questionable — but given what’s at stake for both, unnatural caution and prudence are required. Athletic gifts don’t guarantee maturity away from the court or field, and can even sometimes stunt development. Many are commodified, blinded, enabled, entitled and controlled by the adults around them, which is not an ideal path to the real world.

Upon arrival at college, are the most talented athletes given enough support beyond athletics? And in the field of mental health, are they given tools to acclimate to a different environment than the one many of them grew up in and in dozens of other ways?

Cautionary tales also seemed to elude Miller, Carter and others. Former Alabama wide receiver Henry Ruggs III, now 24, is awaiting trial on DUI charges stemming from a 2021 incident in which he rear-ended a car at speeds well in excess of 120 mph. The driver of the car and her dog died in the crash. Former Kentucky basketball player Terrence Clark, 19, died shortly before the 2021 NBA draft in an accident after running a red light at high speed.

As for Miller and Carter’s coaches? They were not shining examples of accountability. Alabama basketball coach Nate Oates’ verbal gaffes and general lack of curiosity about his players’ presence at a murder scene are beyond belief for anyone not taking the crimson Kool-Aid. Georgia football coach Kirby Smart issued statements about the tragic crash that rocked his team, but otherwise avoided standing up and answering questions as the face of his dynamic program.

Both men are at the top of their profession and are being paid handsomely to get there. Oats is trying to become the first coach to lead Alabama to a Final Four. Smart is the first coach to win back-to-back national titles at Georgia. But when you can’t trust them to speak to the media with much human decency (Oats’s “wrong point at the wrong time” comment) or when they bother to speak to the media at all (Smart), it says something about their true job responsibilities. Just win.

Brandon Miller and Jalen Carter helped both coaches to wins. And on the same January morning, at almost the same time, they were lucky enough to survive their supposedly terrible choices.

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