The football community is reeling after a New Haven and former East Haven coach was among two killed in a car crash on Saturday.
The coach, Melvin Wells, 55, of Hamden, died after he was hit by a wrong-way driver on Interstate-95 in Stonington, according to state police. The wrong-way driver, Larry A. Stallings, 32, of Bristol, also died, police said. Four cars and eight people were involved in the crash, which also seriously injured a passenger.
“It’s one of those things you’re not going to get over,” said Anthony Verderame, the East Haven athletic director. “(Wells) had so much to give and he gave more than anybody you know. He always gave his time, his help, his support, his love. He was a giver.”
— Adam Perrotti (@Adamm_perrotti) March 3, 2019
Fellow coaches and friends described Wells as selfless and dedicated to the community.
“His heart was bigger than anything and he kind of put that in all of us, too,” said Alex Trasacco, who played football with Wells at Southern Connecticut State University and coached with him at Hyde Leadership School between 2007 to 2013.
A Brooklyn native, Wells played at SCSU for four seasons, three as a starting defensive tackle and nose guard. He was a tri-captain on the 1984 team, which was the last coached by eventual NFL coach Kevin Gillbride. Wells was all-New England his senior year.
Coach, you will be missed but never forgotten. Your love of the game, commitment to your athletes & compassion for all, has made a lasting impact in our lives and community. Rest In Peace my friend. @EHHS_FOOTBALL pic.twitter.com/CJRkiX3vS8
— East Haven AD (@EHavenAthletics) March 3, 2019
In the most recent high school football season, Wells was an assistant coach for the Hillhouse High School football team in New Haven. He was also vice president of the Southern Connecticut Pop Warner organization and previously coached for East Haven High School. He was a retired deputy warden for the state Department of Corrections, friends said.
“He was a consummate gentleman,” Verderame said. “(He was) always always positive, always about the kids, always about the community and always saw football as a venue for kids to increase their future, to increase their possibilities.”
— Alex Trasacco (@CoachT_Owls) March 3, 2019
Reggie Lytle, president of the Southern Connecticut Pop Warner, said Wells’ focus was always on benefiting young athletes.
“It was all about the kids,” said Lytle, who coached with Wells this season at Hillhouse.
Lytle said he believes he was the last person Wells talked to before he died. The conversation centered, of course, around how to get ready for the next football season.
“At this point, I don’t know how I’m going to do it,” Lytle said.
When he crashed, Wells was driving home after a visit with his son, Melvin Wells, Jr., who plays football at Curry College in Massachusetts, said Lytle, who met Wells’ wife and children at the hospital after the accident.
On behalf of the Bulkeley Football Program we offer or strongest condolences to Coach Wells family. A true pillar in the New Haven Community and mentor of BHS Head Coach Teriko Roberts… The lives of kids in New Haven, Hartford, etc (our kids) are better for have had known him. pic.twitter.com/XMdoluiHlk
— Bulkeley Football (@BulkeleyTeriko) March 3, 2019
“He was loved by all his friends, family,” Lytle said before bringing food to the family’s house on Sunday afternoon. “You just don’t meet men like this anymore.”
Joe Linta, who coached Melvin Wells, Jr. at Hamden Hall Country Day School, said father and son had a special bond.
“(Wells was a) genuinely kind, nice man, who loved his family dearly,” Linta said. “Forget the football wins and losses, there was just a guy who was just a grounded, really nice person.”
In a post on Facebook, the East Haven Yellowjackets said the team mourned Wells’ loss.
“Coach Wells had a profound impact on many student-athletes during his time at EHHS (East Haven High School),” the post said.
Guidance counselors and social workers will be available for students this week, the post said.
The New Haven Steelers described Wells as one of the “greatest men, mentors and pillars of our community.”
“Coach Melvin Wells, you are and will continue to be an example of how role models conduct themselves,” the team said on its Facebook page. “We love you forever. Rest in peace our brother.”
Wells was driving around 6:15 p.m. Saturday in the left lane of I-95 southbound near Exit 90 in Stonington when a wrong-way driver crashed head-on into him, according to police. The collision sent Wells’ car into another vehicle in the other lane, and both cars went off the road.
The wrong-way driver then crashed into another car, police said.
The passenger in the wrong-way car was seriously injured. The passenger, Jamal Londeen Pisani, 29, of Waterbury, was sent to L&M Hospital, according to police.
The other five people involved in the crash were not treated at the hospital, police said.