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Injured Teen’s Account Differs From Troopers’ Passenger In Fatal Wreck Says Not All Were Drinking

A teenager injured in a car accident Monday on the Palouse Highway said he wasn’t drinking with his friends before the crash and barely knew the driver, who was killed.

Santo McClendon, 14, said he left Ferris High School at lunch time with another friend, Eric Treece. The boys, both freshmen, went to Treece’s house to eat.

The two then walked a few doors down to James “J.D.” Fish’s home on South Smith to see if he would give them a ride back to school, McClendon said.

Fish, 16, and Justin Bibler, 16, were inside drinking beer, Bibler later told state troopers. Fish’s father, Doug Fish, was out of town and had been for at least a week.

“I didn’t even go in, so I didn’t know they were (drinking),” McClendon said Tuesday from his room at Sacred Heart Medical Center. Treece went in the house and returned a few minutes later with the other two teenagers, McClendon said.

All four climbed in Fish’s car. McClendon and Treece rode in the back, both with seat belts fastened.

“I thought we were going back to school,” said McClendon, who nearly lost his right arm in the accident. “That’s all I remember.”

Several minutes later, the two-door Ford Escort was speeding southbound more than 95 mph down the Palouse Highway. Fish lost control on a turn, the car hit an embankment and vaulted into the air. Fish was thrown from the car as it rolled several times.

He died at the scene. The three other youths climbed out of the car and were listed in satisfactory condition Tuesday at Sacred Heart.

Washington State Patrol troopers said the teenagers admitted alcohol was involved in the accident and indicated all four drank something before getting into the car. McClendon said that isn’t true.

“I wasn’t drinking,” he said.

“We don’t drink in our house, we don’t allow alcohol in our house and I believe him when he says he didn’t do it,” said the boy’s father, Gus McClendon. The family is active in the Full Gospel Mission Church, where Gus McClendon is one of the ministers.

“Drinking doesn’t fit into our beliefs and what we stand for,” he said.

At Ferris on Tuesday, counselors visited students in some of Fish’s classes and officials made an announcement about the accident right after school started, said Larry Parton, an assistant principal.

Some staff members also requested counseling, he said.

“We’re dealing with it the best we can,” Parton said. “It’s very difficult when you lose a student, for everyone.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

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