Teen dies after fall from truck bed

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

BUCKEYE and GOODYEAR, Ariz. – A Verrado High School football player is dead after falling out of the back of a pickup truck Wednesday night.

According to the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, Cooper Courtney was riding with six other students at the time. Four of those students were in the cab of the four-door Toyota truck. Courtney and the other two were in the bed.

MCSO Lt. Justin Griffin said the 16-year-old junior-varsity football player was jumping up and down just before he fell. The driver was in the process of pulling over to tell him to sit down, Griffin said.

It happened west of Loop 303 on Citrus Road just south of Bethany Home Road in Goodyear.

Investigators do not believe drugs or alcohol were factors in Courtney’s fatal fall. They do not believe speed was a factor, either.

Courtney was rushed to West Valley Hospital where he later died. Word about Courtney' death started circulating on Facebook and Twitter overnight.

Students spread the word to wear red and the number 75, Courtney’s football jersey number, to honor the teen Thursday. The teens held a moment of silence at 8:15 a.m. in front of the school, coming together around the flag pole.

"It's amazing to see the kids out here this morning -- the love, the caring, the outpouring," Principal Tom Huffman said. "They want to do something, but they don't know what to do. It's a difficult time."

Huffman said he talked to Courtney's mother, who hopes everyone will remember her son as a fun-loving kid. She also requested Thursday night's JV football game go ahead as planned. She said Courtney loved football and the game would be a good way to celebrate his life.

Those who knew Courtney say he was well-liked and fun to be around, calling him a "people person" and a "positive energy."

"He was one of those people that you want around you," said Chrissy Whiles, a student at another school.

Counselors will be on hand at Verrado to work with the kids as needed. This is the first time the school has experienced the death of a student.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, Arizona does not have any legal restrictions on riding in cargo areas of pickup trucks. There are such restrictions in 30 other states and the District of Columbia. Most of those laws are designed to protect children.

Over the years, the Arizona Legislature has taken up several measures meant to make it illegal for kids to ride in the beds of pickup trucks, but none of those bills was ever passed into law.

Democratic Rep. Matt Heinz of Tucson sponsored the most recent attempt earlier this year. His bill (HB 2089) would have required kids younger than 18 to wear seat belts or helmets when riding in a pickup bed. Opponents argued that the measure was an intrusion on an individual's civil liberties.