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Students grieve popular St. Pete teacher; police say alcohol may have been a factor

Jim Wagenman, here in 2002,  taught science at Thurgood Marshall Fundamental Middle School in St. Petersburg.

Times

Jim Wagenman, here in 2002, taught science at Thurgood Marshall Fundamental Middle School in St. Petersburg.

ST. PETERSBURG — Grief counselors were at Thurgood Marshall Fundamental Middle School Monday to talk to students grieving the loss of Jim Wagenman, a popular science teacher who died Saturday in a motorcycle crash.

Counselors met with students in groups and one-on-one, as needed, said Melanie Marquez, a district spokeswoman.

As he saw children off after the school day ended, principal Solomon Lowery said Mr. Wagenman's parents were out of the country and his brother is stuck in New York with the storm, so a service likely won't be held until Friday or Saturday at the earliest.

After the family service, the school will hold its own memorial, said Lowery. Monday, alumni of the school came by with flowers, and current students made banners for the Wagenman family.

Other teachers at the school will cover Mr. Wagenman's classes through Tuesday. After that, a substitute teacher will take over until the school can hire a new teacher, Marquez said.

According to the St. Petersburg police, Mr. Wagenman, 46, was driving a 1999 Kawasaki motorcyle at a high rate of speed and in a reckless manner Friday at 11:25 p.m. when he scraped a curb in the 1400 block of 62nd Ave. NE, causing him to leave the road and tumble down an embankment. He was thrown and the motorcycle wound up partially submerged in a retention pond.

"We believe alcohol was a factor," police spokesman Mike Puetz said Monday.

Mr. Wagenman, who was not wearing a helmet, died early Saturday at Bayfront Medical Center. He was believed to be driving home Friday from a bar he had recently opened, JWags Saloon on Fourth Street. His first wife died in 2001, leaving him with a daughter and two step-children to raise. He also has a son from a second marriage that ended in divorce.

Students set up a Facebook page, RIP Mr. Wagenman, which had more than 700 "likes" as of Monday afternoon. One student posted that he was a "great man and a great mentor," while another called him the best teacher at Thurgood Marshall.

Police are still investigating the crash.

Staff writers Kameel Stanley and Lane DeGregory contributed. Cara Fitzpatrick can be reached at cfitzpatrick@tampabay.com, (727) 893-8846 or on Twitter @Fitz_ly.

Students grieve popular St. Pete teacher; police say alcohol may have been a factor 10/29/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 30, 2012 3:27pm]
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