Community remembers 3 students killed in crash

The mood at Bellbrook High School is somber today as the community mourns the loss of three students killed in a crash early Sunday morning. Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Local Schools Superintendent Keith St. Pierre said counselors, psychologists and teachers will be available to talk with grieving students. Attendance appeared to be lower today, he said.“Our thoughts go out to the families, St. Pierre said. “… We feel for them.”

Students, friends and family filled the courtyard in front of Bellbrook High School during a vigil Sunday to remember the young lives lost earlier that day.

Bellbrook High students Julianna Hawk, 14; Sophie Kerrigan, 17; and Skylar Kooken, 16, were riding inside the extended cab of a Dodge pickup truck traveling on Wagner Road near Oleva Drive after midnight when the truck crashed into a tree. The force of the collision uprooted the full-grown tree and buckled and mangled the truck.

Police found Hawk, Kerrigan and Kooken dead inside.

Three more Sugarcreek Twp. residents, two males ages 17 and 18, and a 17-year-old girl were also in the truck. They were taken to area hospitals for their injuries. The girl was riding with the other girls, while the young men were riding up front. The 17-year-old boy was driving the truck, police said.

Police did not release the driver’s name Sunday. Investigators have not stated a reason why the 17-year-old lost control of the truck.

The girl, who was riding in the back seat with the other girls, was still hospitalized Monday. She is listed in serious condition, said Sgt. Mark White with the Sugarcreek Twp. Police Department.

The 17-year-old male driver, who’s name has not been released, has been released from the hospital. An 18-year-old male passenger was listed in stable condition Monday.

“This is a nightmare,” said Julie Kammer at the vigil, where people hugged, cried and cupped their hands around lit candles while signing Amazing Grace. “You don’t take three lives from a community this small without affecting everybody.”

Sunday’s fatal crash was the third fatal traffic crash involving teens in eight days.

Three Greenville teens were killed Oct. 27 in a single-car crash after the driver lost control of the car on Byrkett Road and Barry Drive. Five days later, a Springboro High School student was killed after he lost control of his car and struck a utility pole while driving to school Thursday.

Sunday’s accident was reported to police around 12:41 a.m.

"We have nothing to indicate alcohol was a factor," said Sgt. Mark White, spokesman for the Sugarcreek Twp. Police Department. Drugs do not appear to be a factor at this time, either, White said.

Under state law, drivers between ages 17 and 18 with a probationary license are banned from driving between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m., except for work or some sort of emergency, and can carry non-family passengers as long as there are seat belts for each passenger.

“Once the investigation is done we will sit down with the prosecutor to determine if charges are warranted,” White said.

Police could not confirm whether the driver or passengers were wearing seatbelts at the time of the accident.

“The fact is that three kids under the age of 18 (were killed) definitely tugs at the heart strings,” White said. “It’s not something I’d recommend anyone to see.”

News of the crash rippled through the community Sunday. Bellbrook-Sugarcreek Local School District Superintendent Keith St. Pierre said this is the first time in his 19 years with the school district that a tragedy of this magnitude has occurred.

He said a crisis committee of counselors and a psychologist will be at the high school Monday to assist students in grief. Teachers will also lend support.

“That is going to take precedent over the lesson of the day. Teachers will be there to comfort and help explain how something like this could happen, if it’s possible to explain how something like this can happen,” St. Pierre said. “Our thought and prayers are with the families of these three girls. We are saddened that this occurred.”

At the vigil, Carley Smith remembered Hawk standing up for her in gym class at Bellbrook Middle School.

“She was so beautiful I thought she was going to be Miss America someday,” Smith said. “That’s how pretty she was.”

Smith and others attending the vigil signed a condolence board. Framed portraits, teddy bears and flowers were sitting against a light pole at the high school. Mourners added to the collection as they passed.

Mike Sabin, pastor of the Wings Christian Fellowship, led the vigil, which included comments from Bellbrook High Principal Chris Baker and the Rev. Stan Gockel, pastor of Bellbrook Presbyterian Church.

“We came out on this cold November night to remember three Bellbrook students who were taken from us and others who were hurt,” he said.

Baker said the school district held the vigil to give the students a place to gather, grieve and support each other.

“It certainly is a tragedy,” Baker said “Our hearts and sympathies go out to the families of these students.”

Some residents, students and friends paid their respects at the crash scene on Wagner Road on Sunday afternoon. Several bouquets of flowers were placed on the tree that had been uprooted in the crash.

Some stared at the tree in disbelief.

Marissa Potter, an 18-year-old Bellbrook High senior, said she didn’t know the crash victims very well, but their deaths were a “wakeup call.”

“I didn’t think it was real,” Potter said. “I just saw them Friday at school. It’s crazy to think someone can be here and then gone just like that.”

Madison Brown, a 17-year-old Bellbrook senior, said she couldn’t believe it when she heard about the crash.

“I didn’t think it was true,” Brown said. “It still doesn’t seem true. It’s horrible.”

Nick Neeley, a 17-year Bellbrook junior, said Kerrigan and Kooken had similar personalities and both loved to listen to music.

Kooken also enjoyed hanging out with friends.

“She was fun to be around,” Neeley said. “She didn’t care what people thought about her. She liked to live in the moment.”

Arthur Huffman, a Bellbrook father said he didn’t know the teens, but wanted to pay his respects.

“It’s a tragedy,” Huffman said. “I have three kids of my own. As a parent, I couldn’t imagine it.”

-- Dayton Daily News reporter Amelia Robinson contributed to this report

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