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Matt Deery, standout Phillipsburg athlete, dies in crash - UPDATE
Published: Wednesday, August 01, 2012, 9:35 PM Updated: Wednesday, August 01, 2012, 11:33 PM
By Express-Times staff
Former Phillipsburg High School standout athlete Matt Deery died today after crashing head-on into a truck in Upper Nazareth Township, police said.
Police outside the home of Deery's mother in Alpha confirmed the football player and pole vaulter died in the crash.
Deery, 19, graduated from Phillipsburg High School last year and attended Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn., on a track scholarship.
“It’s a tragedy beyond proportion,” Phillipsburg Superintendent George Chando said Wednesday night. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family having to deal with this tragedy.”
Deery was driving in a Jeep about 4 p.m. west along Newburg Road, then swerved into the eastbound lane to avoid striking a Nissan Altima turning onto Werner Road, according to Upper Nazareth Township Police Chief Alan Siegfried. The Jeep then struck a truck cab driving on Newburg Road, Siegfried said.
“It’s pretty clear what happened,” Siegfried said after interviewing witnesses.
Deery was a two-sport athlete at Phillipsburg High School -- a wide receiver and cornerback on the football team, and a hurdler and pole vaulter on the track and field team. He was All-Area first-team selection by The Express-Times in both sports his senior year.
The Northampton County coroner was called to a car crash Wednesday at Newburg and Werner roads in Upper Nazareth Township, according to emergency radio reports.
Former Phillipsburg football coach Bob Stem felt sick to his stomach when he heard the news.
“What a shame,” Stem said. “What a sweetheart of a kid he is. I don’t think he ever said anything bad about anyone.”
Deery missed the final five games of the football season with a knee injury but still managed to catch 17 passes for 448 yards and six touchdowns. A versatile athlete, he also returned punts to help the Stateliners to a 9-2 record.
Rather than feel sorry for himself, Deery went to all the Stateliner practices and games after his injury, Stem said. He said his wife is cousins with Deery’s grandfather.
Teammate Mike Diamond slipped into Deery’s starting role when he was hurt. The Class of 2012 ‘Liner said Deery was a great mentor and supporter.
“He was without a doubt, one of the best people I ever met, not only on the sports field but in general,” Diamond said.
Diamond kept in touch with Deery at pickup basketball games. He saw him in recent weeks and is shocked he’ll never see him again.
“He always encouraged me,” Diamond said. “He was just a great person.”
Deery excelled in both the hurdles and pole vault in track and field. He is the Warren County record holder in the pole vault at 14 feet, 6 inches and finished second at the NJSIAA Meet of Champions with a vault of 15-0.
His older brother, Eric, is a senior running back at East Stroudsburg University.
The crash left the Jeep’s rear wheels high off the ground at a utility pole. A blue tarp was draped over the Jeep, then removed by officials photographing the scene.
Deery was pronounced dead at the scene by Northampton County Deputy Coroner Kristen Shuman, Siegfried said. County Coroner Zachary Lysek said Deery died due to multiple blunt force trauma. The manner of death was accident.
The male driver of the truck, age 53, was taken to St. Luke’s Hospital in Bethlehem Township, Pa., as a precaution, he said. The female driver of the Nissan was not injured. Neither the truck driver nor the Nissan driver were identified by police.
Siegfried said he expects a toxicology report to be performed.
Police closed off a portion of Newburg Road at Gun Club Road. About a dozen residents lost power during the crash due to downed wires.
Among them is resident Elwood Lehr. He lives about a block away, and said neighbors also lost power.
Wires are down at the home next door to the crash and chunks of debris are strewn over the area.
Neighbors gathered near the crash site, recalling the crash last year where a school van and an RV collided on Newburg Road, killing the van's driver.
"I don't know what happens when people drive through here," Elwood Lehr said, musing about the prevalence of serious accidents in the area.
Lehr said his wife, Joann, heard a bang, then went to the scene and saw smoke coming from the crashed Jeep.
Siegfried said an investigation is ongoing.
Stem said he’ll always remember Deery as an extraordinarily humble young man, considering his athletic talents.
“If you had a son, you’d want him to be like him,” Stem said. “I mean that.”