An undated photo of Long Beach native Derrick Cleveland stationed in Kuwait. The soldier was killed in a car crash in Kentucky on Friday, December 18. Photo courtesy of his family.
Long Beach native Derrick Cleveland was living out his dream as an Army soldier when his life was suddenly cut short by a car crash Friday night.
The 24-year-old, stationed at Kentucky’s Fort Knox military base, was the backseat passenger in a vehicle driven by fellow soldier Martin Barrington, 21, when the vehicle veered off a highway in Radcliff, Kentucky, near the base, and struck a house, said police Chief Jeff Cross of the Radcliff Police Department in Kentucky.
The December 18 incident happened at about 11:15PM.
Barrington and the front seat passenger were air-lifted to a local hospital after the crash. Derrick, who was sitting in the back seat, was ejected from the vehicle and declared dead at the scene, Cross said.
The rear half of the vehicle was severely damaged, as well as part of the house, which caused the family at the residence to find temporary shelter, authorities said.
Barrington faces DUI, second degree assault and manslaughter charges.
Back in Long Beach, Derrick’s family is still in shock.
“Everybody is in disbelief,” said Derrick’s sister-in-law Monica Santiesteban. “He was just too young.” Santiesteban described the young soldier as a goofy, happy man with a genuine smile who enjoyed making people laugh.
“There’s just so many instances of his goofiness [...] always making jokes to his siblings, or his mother,” she said.
Derrick was also a determined man, his father Derrick Cleveland Sr. told the Post. The elder Cleveland recalled a son intent on becoming a soldier after hearing from an Army sergeant who spoke at his school when he was a sophomore.
“The first time he took the test, he didn’t pass it but he didn't get discouraged by that,” Cleveland Sr. said. “He kept studying and kept studying until he finally came home and said ‘Mom, guess what? I passed the test’.”
Once Derrick became a soldier he also turned into a role model, inspiring a friend and a cousin—who is now stationed in Germany—to join as well, Cleveland Sr. said.
“My son was a great son,” his father said. “He was doing things for himself and the country.”
Cleveland Sr. said there was nothing else he could say about Derrick other than that he was very proud of him.
Derrick was a combat engineer in the Army’s 19th Battalion. He attended Bret Hart Elementary, Bancroft Middle School, and Jordan High School—where he was involved in the ROTC program—in Long Beach.
He is survived by his newlywed wife Aspen Cleveland, 11-month-old daughter Aaliyah, mother Edna Yanez, father Derrick Cleveland Sr., siblings Rafael Santiesteban, Gazmine Cleveland and Tyler Cleveland, and nieces Frida, Naomi and Lai’la.
The family is scheduled to pick up Derrick’s body from Los Angeles International Airport on Wednesday.
A viewing is scheduled for Wednesday, December 30 from 4:00PM to 8:00PM. Burial services will be held on Thursday, December 31 beginning at 2:00PM at Inglewood Park Cemetery.