AU RTHS Walker

Rantoul Township High School senior DeAndre Walker remains at Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana awaiting transfer to Chicago for treatment after being partially paralyzed in a single-vehicle accident July 4 on U.S. 45 south of Thomasboro.

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RANTOUL — A Rantoul Township High School senior remains at Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana, awaiting transfer for treatment in Chicago after a single-vehicle wreck last month left him partially paralyzed.

Football star Deandre Walker was injured July 4 when the pickup truck he was driving left U.S. 45 south of Thomasboro and overturned.

It marks the second straight year the RTHS football team has suffered devastating news just weeks before the start of the season.

Walker’s accident occurred the morning of the holiday. He suffered life-threatening injuries, including being mostly paralyzed from the neck down.

Football coach Tom Hess said Walker was driving the pickup truck while helping his mother, Gloria Hollins, when the vehicle hit gravel and he overcorrected, causing the crash. The vehicle he was driving rolled over, and emergency responders had to cut the roof off to get to Walker. He was taken to Carle, where he has been since the crash.

Hess said surgery was performed on Walker’s spine that took more than 11 hours. He said Walker has been experiencing fevers, which is preventing doctors from moving him to Chicago, which they would like to do to continue rehab.

Once the fevers are under control, the move to Chicago is likely.

Amy Jones, dean of sophomores and juniors at RTHS, said she and her husband were the ones who found Walker’s vehicle, which was on its side.

“My husband had gone (to the vehicle) first, and my husband came back and said, ‘There’s a 17-year-old named Deandre. I think you should go talk to him,’” she said.

Jones said she stayed with Walker until an ambulance arrived. She said she had taught Walker when he was in elementary school beginning in third grade.

“He was alert. They had to cut him out of his truck, but he was still talking,” Jones said.

Brooke Billings, assistant principal at RTHS, said she was at the Rantoul Fourth of July parade when she received a call informing her of the accident.

Billings said Walker is a quiet person who does his job and doesn’t say a whole lot until you get to know him. Then “he will come out of his shell,” she said. “He has a great sense of humor. He is a good friend” to those who know him.

Jones agreed, saying, “If you build a rapport with him, he will tease and poke fun.”

Walker was expected to be one of the best players on the football team this year.

Hess said Walker “is a phenomenal athlete.”

“He was just simply fast, strong and physical,” Hess said.

Last year, Eagles player Donnell Robertson died in June.

Hess said all you can do is tell the players to love each other.

“These are real-life examples of tomorrow isn’t promised; you have to value your friendships because you just don’t know when your last day or game will be,” Hess said.

The team will wear a red sticker with Walker’s initials “DW” on the back this season.

The football team opened practice Monday in preparation for the upcoming season. The Eagles open on the road Aug. 30 against Prairie Central.

Billings said several of the Eagles players went to see Walker in the hospital the Sunday after the accident. His mother gave them clearance to be with him.

Billings said a GoFundMe page has been set up for Walker.

Ryan Birch is sports editor of the Rantoul Press, a News-Gazette Media community newspaper. For more, visit rantoulpress.com.