Driver, 21, killed in crash; seat ejected from car

Mandarin Road was closed for more than 5 hours

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A 21-year-old driver was killed in Mandarin early Friday morning in a single-vehicle crash so violent, the entire driver's seat was ejected from the vehicle.

Police say 21-year-old Alexander Pepple (pictured, below) was traveling south in the 12100 block of Mandarin Road at a high speed just before 3 a.m. when he swerved into the eastbound lane and hit a tree.

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"Right where the crash happened, the road splits to incorporate the trees, there's not a raised median but he was on the opposite side of the split. So it's literally two separate lanes at the area of the crash," said Detective Robert Peck, of the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office's traffic homicide unit.

Pepple died at the scene. He was wearing a seat belt, but the force of the crash was so great, the entire seat of the car was ejected.

"It was incredibly loud. It was like a bomb," said resident Noushine Navabi, who was awakened by the crash. "I heard tires screeching and then the collision."

Navabi called 911 and watched, horrified.

"I was there but I was helpless," she said.

Pepple lives just over one mile from where he crashed.

Police said they believe speed and alcohol were contributing factors in the crash. They said their investigation is ongoing.

Mandarin Road between Loretto Road and Sparkleberry Lane was closed for five and a half hours and reopened about 8:15 a.m.

Friends of Pepple's left flowers at the scene of the accident Friday.

"He was a really good friend, an extremely good friend," Alex Coughlin said.

Couglin said he had just hung out with Pepple on Thursday. "Pep," as he calls him, was a happy, outgoing and popular guy who celebrated his 21st birthday just a few weeks ago. He was a junior at the University of North Florida majoring in sports management.

"Pep was the person who would take the stress off just through his humor," Coughlin said. "He was so enlightening to be around. He just lifted everyone's spirit always. He was just that person."

Gloria Thompson knew Pepple. Her daughter was friends with him. She said she's upset over another life gone too soon.

"When something like this happens, I think it's a wake-up call to the younger kids, but it doesn't last long enough," Thompson said. "It wakes them up for a short time, but the feeling of invincibility comes back."

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