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LAKE STATION — Jh’Rome Tuggle graduated a star athlete from Merrillville High School more than a decade ago, but the 30-year-old remained a familiar face in the Region’s athletic community up until his death Wednesday.

Tuggle — who also won a Big Ten 200-meter dash title as a Purdue University student in 2008 — was killed in a head-on crash Wednesday on Ripley Street in Lake Station.

Janis Qualizza, longtime athletic director at Merrillville, said even after Tuggle graduated in 2004, the former athlete always stayed in touch and attended sporting events.

“Anytime he was around, he would stop in and ask you how things were going,” Qualizza said. “When you lose a kid like that, well, now he’s a young man, it leaves a community really brokenhearted.”

In his senior year, Tuggle won a state championship in the 400-meter dash and took second in the 200-meter dash, Qualizza said.

He also played on Merrillville High School’s basketball, football and wrestling teams, winning a regional championship in wrestling, according to Tuggle’s biography on Purdue’s athletic page.

‘He was a serious athlete’

Purdue athletic department spokesman Tom Schott said Tuggle currently ranks third in school history for outdoor 400 meters, fourth in indoor 300 meters and fifth in indoor 200 meters.

“We are saddened to hear of the tragic passing of Jh’Rome and offer our condolences to his family and friends,” Schott said in an email. “He was an accomplished sprinter for our track and field program.”

Longtime friend Dan Bedoy, 32, of Schererville, said the two met in high school but became good friends while students at Purdue in West Lafayette.

Bedoy described Tuggle as “a phenomenal guy” and natural athlete. When he wasn’t playing sports, Bedoy said Tuggle would perform rap battles at local hip-hop shows while at Purdue.

“He was a character. He was a serious athlete but he also wasn’t afraid to be silly or funny. He was comfortable in his skin,” Bedoy said.

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Off the field, Tuggle enjoyed exploring his artistic side with video editing. He also was health conscious, Bedoy said. He said Tuggle had an unmatched love for sour cherries — so much that he sold his own organic juice.

“We were dreamers,” Bedoy said, laughing. “He was a guy I could think big with. We always talked about how we were going to sell cherry juice, and call it Jh’Rome Juice.”

Bedoy coached at Purdue before moving back to the Region three years ago, allowing Tuggle and him to reconnect. Tuggle had recently started helping coach at a local high school in Gary, he said. His daughter runs cross country in school, he said.

Tuggle’s mother declined comment when reached by phone Thursday night.

‘A very big loss’

Tuggle was found dead at the scene Wednesday when Lake Station police responded to 2700 block of Ripley Street to find a car and a pickup truck, both of which had heavy front-end damage, according to a news release. Tuggle died from blunt force trauma in a motor vehicle crash, according to the Lake County coroner’s office.

A 36-year-old woman in Tuggle’s car had life-threatening injuries. She was extricated and flown by helicopter to a hospital, police said.

A 63-year-old man in the pickup truck was taken to Methodist Hospitals Northlake Campus in Gary, police said.

A preliminary investigation showed Tuggle’s car was headed north on Ripley Street when it crossed left of center in the southbound lanes and hit the pickup truck, police said.

Qualizza said Tuggle’s death is a “very big loss” to the community.

“Our hearts are very heavy over here. He was a fine, young man,” she said.

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Northlake County Reporter

Lauren covers North Lake County government, breaking news, crime and environmental issues for The Times. She previously worked at The Herald-News in Joliet. She holds a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting.