14-year-old was driving to bus stop when SUV went off bridge, deputies say

Ponte Vedra High School freshman died after driving off bridge on private property

This story contains disturbing details.

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – A Ponte Vedra High School student who died Wednesday morning after driving off a bridge on private property was on his way to his school bus stop, authorities said.

The St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office said Cole Kelley, 14, was driving on private land on San Pablo Road South, near J. Turner Butler Boulevard, on his way to his bus stop on public property, when his SUV went off a small bridge into the water.

The land, called the Dee Dot Ranch, is owned by the Davis family, known for developments and starting Winn-Dixie. Authorities said the land is used for many purposes and a number of people live on the property. Sheriff’s Office spokesman Chuck Mulligan said Kelley lived there with his family. He said the teen would routinely drive to the public roadway and park the SUV before hopping on his school bus.

Mulligan said there were several people in the area at the time of the crash and some saw it happen and rushed to help, including a woman who called 911. The Sheriff’s Office made the 911 call public Thursday afternoon, although the woman’s identity was kept confidential.

Dispatcher: “What’s going on, ma’am?”

Caller: “A vehicle has fallen off a bridge into the Intracoastal."

Dispatcher: “Are they completely underwater?”

Caller: "Yes. You can’t see the vehicle. You can’t see anything.”

Caller: “We’re definitely going to need fire-rescue. Someone’s underneath the water.”

Dispatcher: “Yes ma’am. They’re headed that way, as well.”

In the audio, the woman can be heard speaking to people in the background who were trying to find the vehicle and get the driver out. It’s unclear if they knew who it was.

"This is where all the bubbles have been coming up right here,” she can be heard saying in the call.

Rescuers from Jacksonville and St. Johns County rushed in to help. The News4Jax Sky 4 helicopter was flying overhead as they searched the water, near the small bridge that the Isuzu Trooper went off of. First responders used a winch to pull the SUV up, finally getting to the person inside. But it was too late.

“This individual has been pulled out of the vehicle and is deceased,” Mulligan told reporters shortly after 10 a.m. Wednesday.

On Thursday, News4Jax learned Kelley lived on the property with his family and was driving the SUV to the public road where he would meet his school bus. Since it’s private land, according to Mulligan, he was legally allowed to be driving.

Mulligan said Thursday that the crash was still under investigation, but it appeared to be an accident and there was no criminal wrongdoing. He said detectives spoke with witnesses and do not believe the vehicle was traveling at a high speed.

On Thursday morning, the principal of Ponte Vedra High School sent the following message about the freshman student:

“It is with deep regret and sadness that we inform you of the passing of Cole Anthony Kelley yesterday morning, a freshman here at Ponte Vedra High School. Our hearts and thoughts are with the Kelley family at this most difficult time. We are prepared to assist any in our school community with resources, counseling and support through our district. We have additional resources for parents on our Website under the guidance tab. Cole was described by one of his teachers as a kind, caring and respectful young man. He will truly be missed. We extend our deepest sympathies to the Kelley family and all who have come to know Cole.”

Kelley previously attended Landrum Middle School.

St. Johns County School District officials brought in grief counselors to help students cope. They said they’d be available as long as they are needed. Family friends said Kelley came from a very good, religious family and everyone is shocked about what happened.

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