ALEXANDER COUNTY, N.C. - A volunteer firefighter was killed in an accident within walking distance of his fire department.
Caleb Benfield was killed Wednesday night in a motorcycle crash in Alexander County.
Benfield was going to the Bethlehem Fire Department to help children from a local elementary school learn the importance of fire safety. The accident happened only about 150 yards from the entrance to the fire department.
Dozens of firefighters, family members and friends gathered in a circle on Thursday to pray for 18-year-old Benfield. His fire helmet and gear sit around the large wooden cross erected on Richey Road, feet away from where he crashed the motorcycle.
“Energetic, lively -- a son that every mom would love to have,” said family friend Pamela Courtney.
Friends and firefighters told stories about the teenager, who just a couple of weeks ago responded to his first fire after turning 18. He was also interested in work as a sheriff’s deputy, where he was a member of the department's explorer program.
“My kids are like my own kids, and it was like losing one of my own children,” sheriff’s deputy Rick Lail said.
Fellow firefighters left around lunchtime Thursday to go to Charlotte, where the teenager was flown after the accident and later died. They wanted to honor his family and him with an escort back to the foothills.
The Highway Patrol said the teenager lost control of the motorcycle when he locked up the brake on the bike. They don't believe he was speeding at the time of the wreck.
His older brother, who is also a volunteer firefighter, was at the department when the call went out.
“It was very devastating because his own brother was in the responding engine that went to the scene of the accident. We didn't know,” said Bethlehem Fire Chief Shannon Lowrance.
Haley Dancy, who left flowers at the memorial Thursday, said Benfield was a role model for her son and other children.
“My kids looked to him as a brother,” she said. “And so just dealing with that, it is hard.”