SULPHUR — The silver Chevy compact veered off the two-lane county road, flipped onto its top, slammed into a tree and caught fire.
Driving past, Rally Beam, 17, saw the wreck and raced to help. Beam reached into the burning car where Malorie Pope, 18, of Davis, was screaming and crying. She tried to get out, but her head was caught against the seat. She couldn’t move her legs. She thought she was going to die. Beam reached in and pulled her to safety. Rescue workers credited Beam with saving her life.
The Sulphur Times-Democrat ran a front-page story about the June 18 wreck and included a photograph of a smiling Rally, dressed in a T-shirt and baseball cap.
Twenty-three days and 20 miles from the first accident, Beam died when his 2003 Lexus crossed the center line of State Highway 7 just west of Hennepin and struck a semi-trailer.
The July 11 death of the good-natured, high school football standout so soon after he’d been hailed as a hero stunned many in this town of 5,000 near Lake of the Arbuckles about 85 miles south of Oklahoma City. The driver of the truck, Ronnie Percell, 52, of Ratliff City, also died in the accident.
“Kids just realize (now) how precious life is and it can be taken away in a heartbeat,” said Clete Cole, principal of Sulphur High School, home of the Bulldogs. “It shook them up pretty good.”
Unanswered questions about Rally’s fatal crash nag at his father, Michael Beam, 43.
What was his son doing near Hennepin that Friday morning? Was he playing on his phone?
“You know how kids are these days,” Michael Beam said.
An Oklahoma Highway Patrol report doesn’t fill in those gaps. But it does note that Rally Beam was distracted before the deadly collision, by what is unknown.
As a sophomore, Rally Beam was the offensive star on the football team, playing running back, tight end and kicker. He also led the team in tackles.
“He was the kind of guy that when he tackled you, you knew you’d been tackled. He brought the house,” said Bill Leveridge, pastor at Crossway First Baptist Church in Sulphur, who also announces the town’s football games.
But in his junior year, Rally lost focus. He told his dad he was taking a break from football. Michael Beam reminded his son how he good he was on the field, about the opportunities football could provide. But he didn’t argue with his son or call him a quitter. He knew the pressure involved in playing football, and he didn’t blame him for wanting a breather.
Like most kids his age, new driving privileges meant family time was scarce with Rally.
“He was at the age where we didn’t see him much because, you know, shoot, he got a car. You couldn’t keep him still,” Michael Beam said.
With his senior year approaching, Rally decided to play football again, his father said.
Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper Daniel Arms, who responded to the June 18 crash and deemed Rally a hero, said he thought the fiery rescue might be a turning point in the young man’s life.
“He was one of those kids that rode a real fine line: he wasn’t going to be in trouble, but he’s not going above and beyond,” said Arms, who knew Rally from around town.
“All the coaches basically said this could be the one thing that pushed his self-esteem up to be a better kid and a better athlete,” Arms said.
Arms was working with Sulphur High School and Pope’s family to coordinate a big gesture of thanks for Rally when the trooper found out about the crash that took Rally’s life.
Pope, who attended Davis High School, Sulphur’s cross-county rival, said she knew of Rally, but had never met him before her accident. She heard about Rally’s death from a family friend while she was in a rehabilitation center.
“I just couldn’t believe the person that saved me was gone,” she said. Pope and Rally shared a birthday, a year apart.
Six hundred people attended Rally’s July 15 funeral in Sulphur.
A day earlier, family and friends gathered in Ratliff City to remember Percell. The grandfather of nine raised cattle and catfish and loved coon hunting, according to an obituary in the Durant Democrat.