Steady traffic whizzes through the intersection of Forest Hill and Olympia boulevards, a familiar scene in this busy part of Wellington.
This is where Altavious Carter almost died.
“Oh, lord, yes, it’s still with me,” Carter says of Dec. 15, 2005, the day a Palm Beach County School District bus travelling 48 mph plowed into the van carrying him and former Summit Christian assistant basketball coach Vincent Merriweather.
Both Carter, then a freshman at Summit, and Merriweather wore their seat belts. The school bus rear-ended their van, rocketing both Carter and Merriweather, still attached to their seats, into the back of the crunched vehicle. Carter broke his neck; Merriweather was temporarily paralyzed.
It sounds unbelievable, but that was only the beginning of the bad luck that has dogged Carter since. Just as unbelievable: Carter’s still playing hoops.
Now, some 7 1/2 years after that disastrous day, Carter has signed an athletic scholarship to play basketball for Eckerd College, a Division II program in St. Petersburg.
How did he get there?
“It’s a long story,” Carter said.
Carter, now 21, needed more than six months to recover from the accident. An agile but physical 6-foot-5, Carter starred as a sophomore center at Summit the following season, helping the Saints reach the state semifinals.
He transferred to Grandview Prep in Boca Raton for his junior and senior years. His Grandview teams, coached by Joe Dawson, were 59-2 over those two seasons, twice losing in the state championship game.
Dawson helped Carter land at Santa Fe Community College in Gainesville, where he averaged 7.3 points and 3.6 rebounds as a freshman through the 2009-10 season.
Then he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
He worked his way back in time for the 2011-12 season. He got 7.8 points and 5.2 rebounds per contest over 29 games.
Then he tore the same ligament a second time.
He came home to Belle Glade, frustrated but determined to finish his basketball career.
He’s spent the past year rehabilitating his knee, working out at Athletes Advantage in Wellington and at Glades Central High, where he’s an assistant basketball coach. He took classes at FAU this school year and is on pace to graduate with a bachelor’s degree from Eckerd.
He quotes lines from Drake’s song, “Started from the Bottom,” and sticks to his old standbys: family, friends and faith.
“I’m living through adversity,” said Carter. “Once you start something you have to finish it. I have a large support system. Before I let myself down, I’m never going to let them down.”
Long-time Eckerd hoops coach Tom Ryan had two scholarships to fill on his team’s roster for the 2013-14 season. As he watched the Division II tournament quarterfinals in Louisville, Ryan picked up a call from Santa Fe coach Chris Mowry. Two of Mowry’s former players wanted to continue their hoops careers. Carter was one of them.
Eckerd was interested, but so was Rollins College in Winter Park. Carter visited Rollins and worked out with the team. He received a scholarship offer.
“He blew them away,” Dawson said. “He played very well.”
Eckerd, realizing the possibility of losing Carter, immediately offered him a scholarship, too.
“He drove over,” Ryan said. “He met with our trainers and our team doctor. He worked out with the guys. He met the associate dean of students and our admissions people.
“Everybody loved him. He really made an impression.”
Ryan and his assistant coaches told Carter he was their top target, the No. 1 unsigned prospect on their recruiting board.
“After all that, I was their top guy,” Carter said. “After all that.”
And so he signed with Eckerd with a clear path ahead: Finish his bachelor’s degree and try make it in professional hoops. And if his hoops career ends at Eckerd, Carter says he’d like to coach basketball.
“Until my legs are chopped off, I’m going to keep chasing this,” Carter said. “God put me through all this to see if I’ll lay down or keep going.
“I’m still going.”
Carter still drives through the Forest Hill and Olympia intersection. He cringes, but he doesn’t carry the accident in his mind like he once did.
“It’s not as bad,” he said, “but I’m always on guard.”
A jury in 2010 awarded nearly $1.1 million to Carter for the injuries he sustained in the crash. The school district’s already paid $100,000 of that settlement, the statutory limit in effect in 2005, and as of now won’t pay him the rest. He is owed $994,000 in damages.
The school bus driver, Dennis Grantham, was charged in 2005 with careless driving. Merriweather has made a long, slow recovery. Carter spent time with him Thursday night.
For the past few years, Carter’s worked with Florida state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz of Miami to pass a bill that would force the school district to complete its payment. The bill’s died in committee the past two years.
But the accident, and all the pain that’s come with it, has always been secondary to Carter’s basketball fight. He returned to the court in high school. And when the game hurt him twice, he came back again, right back to the intersection of quit or continue.
“I’m no quitter,” Carter said. “This is my last chance.”