Harrisburg reacts to guilty plea after crash kills beloved teacher

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HARRISBURG - A town rocked by tragedy continues to heal after the man responsible for the car crash that killed a popular teacher pleaded guilty Wednesday.

27-year-old Brandon Brill pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and assault after being arrested for causing a 2017 crash that killed Harrisburg teacher Brian Simpson and injured four students.

Brill was originally charged with second degree murder after police determined he was driving without a valid license for the third time.

Now ten months removed from the tragedy, Harrisburg residents are looking back at Simpson's life and the profound affect he had on the community. 

Cortney Franklin played baseball under Simpson, winning two district titles in 2013 and 2013. Growing up without a dad, Franklin said Simpson was a great father figure and taught him important lessons.

"A lot of what I learned from him was just watching him live his life. He was an incredible father, an amazing husband,"  Franklin said. "He taught me what it meant to have integrity, no matter what we were doing he always stressed having integrity and doing the right thing and being a good person all around."   

Hearing Wednesday's news about Brill, Franklin said he couldn't help but recall the biggest lessons Coach Simpson taught him: those of grace and improvement.

"I think the biggest thing for me is not what he's being punished for or what they're calling it or charging him with, it's that he's using this mistake to learn from it an improve his life and the way he impacts others," he said. "I've made lots of mistakes in my life so I can't possibly imagine what he's feeling from his mistake, feeling responsible for ending another human being's life."

16-year-old Jacob Weber is a former student of Simpson's. Weber said Simpson was his favorite teacher and always found a way to make class fun.

"He was amazing. He was there for everyone. He could help you with any problems you had. You could talk to him about anything," he said.

Franklin said Simpson's death left a hole in the Harrisburg community.

"He impacted so many peoples lives in so many different ways, as a coach as a teacher, as a friend, as a father. He was just super impactful for this community," he said. 

Weber said although it's been hard, the community is starting to heal.

"They all seem to be doing a little better around here. Since then we've all gotten used to it. You know we still struggle a little bit with it," Weber said.

"We're still just trying to fill that void. It's pretty big shoes to fill," Franklin said.

Brill's sentencing date has not been yet been set.

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