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Saturday, Mar 30 2013 04:22 PM

Highland High hoops star killed in accident on Hwy 101

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    Derrick Duff

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By JAMES BURGER, Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

A Highland High School basketball star died early Saturday morning on Highway 101 on the way home from a Spring Break vacation in Pismo Beach after he was thrown from the back of a Jeep.

Derrick Duff, 18, was a passenger in the Jeep with two other teens from Bakersfield who were travelling south on Highway 101 north of Highway 166at 2:20 a.m. on Saturday when the accident occurred.

Duff’s mother Valerie Mility, said Saturday that the trip to Pismo Beach was her son’s first trip away from home away from his family.

After a week away, she said, he and his two friends were hoping to drive home early.

“He laid down in the back seat to get some rest,” she said.

The trio made it nearly to Highway 166, which connects the Central Coast town of Santa Maria to Kern County, when the accident happened.

The California Highway Patrol reported that the 17-year-old driver of the 2000 Jeep strayed from the fast lane of the freeway into the dirt center divider, slammed into the guard-rail and veered back onto the asphalt.

Mility believes the boy fell asleep at the wheel.

Alcohol and drugs were not a factor in the crash, Highway Patrol reports stated.

The collision threw Duff, who was not wearing a seatbelt, out of the vehicle and onto the pavement of the fast lane, where he was hit by other vehicles travelling on the highway, Highway Patrol reports stated.

He died at the scene.

The number of other vehicles who hit Duff was not known, according to the Highway Patrol report. But none of them stopped at the scene to help.

None of the three teens involved in the accident were identified by Highway Patrol officers. The driver and the other passenger were both juveniles.

Mility is a travelling nurse who brought the family to Bakersfield for a job at a Bakersfield hospital.

She remembers her son as passionate and good-hearted.

“He loved basketball and girls and friends and having fun,” she said. “He was funny. He loved to dance. He never got into trouble.”

It was Duff’s first year at Highland High School and he quickly became popular with other students and  the MVP of the basketball team, said Mility’s close friend Babette Baier.

Elijah Baier, Babette’s son, was one of Duff’s closest friends.

Baier said he and Duff connected almost immediately when they met. They loved the same music and the game of basketball and both had the knack, he said, of being able to disagree with each other and still stay friends.

One of Duff’s best moments, Baier said, was in Highland’s first basketball game of the season against Garces High School.

“We were the underdogs and we ended up winning. (Duff) loved that. That was probably one of his best games,” Baier said.

Duff was a unique player, he said, because he never gave up. No matter what the score was he would push himself hard and fight to give Highland the win.

He last talked to his friend before spring break.

“It was Friday of last week and I told him that me and my mom were going to go visit colleges and go to the beach,” Baier said.

He tried to discourage Duff from heading off to Pismo but his friend decided to go.

“We wanted to go to college. He planned on becoming a police officer and playing basketball,” Baier said.

Highland teachers said Duff was a humble young man who didn’t act like the star basketball player but, instead, focused on what he was going to be able to accomplish in the future after high school.

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