To Dalton: Kentucky graduating class mourns, pays tribute to classmate killed in car wreck day before graduation

Published 6:27 am Saturday, May 29, 2021

With a toast and tears, the graduating class of Bell County High School honored a classmate who died tragically in a car wreck the day before his graduation.

Bell County High School, in Middlesboro, held its graduation ceremony on Friday, following the untimely passing of one of the graduating students, Dalton Hunter.

Bell County Schools Superintendent Tom Gambrel said the decision to continue with graduation following Hunter’s death the day before was a difficult one.

“We really were struggling with the decision of whether to continue or postpone,” Gambrel said. “We talked with Dalton’s mother, and she gave us the blessing to continue, and his sister would accept his diploma on his behalf. We were pleased that she allowed us to continue, and we really feel like it went well.”

As expected, the event was a bittersweet one for the family, friends and classmates who gathered for the occasion.

“It was somber,” Gambrel said. “We felt like it would be better to be together, and they seemed to have the same sentiment. We did talk to a few students, they wanted to be together that night.”

Gamberi said that amidst the tragedy, the students found a way to pay tribute to their fallen classmate.

“A really touching event took place,” Gambrel said. “All of them had a can of Arizona Sweet Tea, that was Dalton’s favorite drink. They all enjoyed a sweet tea toward the end of the ceremony together to honor him.”

Gambrel said he is thankful for the family’s blessing to go ahead with the ceremony and was impressed with how people pulled together in the wake of the tragic event.

“I’m just thankful (Dalton’s mother) gave us the go-ahead to continue and we were able to have graduation and honor Dalton at the same time,” Gambrel said. “The community came together and raised a bunch of money to help with the funeral expenses. I think it was good for his family to see the graduation, to be there and be a part of it. Even in the midst of tragedy, we came together to celebrate a life and celebrate the graduation of all the seniors. I’m proud of how everyone responded, and how all the folks involved paid tribute to Dalton.”