2 students killed in car crash
Two other students were also injured after their car was t-boned by a truck
By Chase Purdy and Zach Crizer
The Roanoke Times
CHAMBLISSBURG, Va. — Two Staunton River High School students died in a traffic crash along Virginia 24 on Wednesday morning, authorities said.
They were less than six miles from school and about 20 minutes before the start of their first-period classes. The deadly wreck reverberated throughout the school over the course of the afternoon, a stark punctuation mark for a community all too familiar with traffic-related tragedy.
State police Sgt. Rob Carpentieri identified the students as Jacob Henry Baird, 17, of Thaxton and Katie Thurston, 16, who has a Vinton mailing address.
Two other classmates, Gradon Lewis Graybill, 18, of Blue Ridge and Shawn Hall, 19, who has a Vinton mailing address, also were in the car. Graybill and Hall were taken by medical crews to Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital.
Hall is listed in fair condition and Graybill has been discharged, according to hospital spokesman Eric Earnhart. Carpentieri said the crash happened just after 8:30 a.m. at Masons Lane and Virginia 24, about nine miles east of Vinton.
The teens were in a black 2000 Ford Mustang driven by Baird. State police said Baird attempted to turn left off of Masons Lane onto Virginia 24. When he did, he pulled in front of a westbound primer black Ford F-350 driven by William Orr, 49, of Vinton.
The impact of the crash crumpled the Mustang, killing Baird and Thurston. Carpentieri said Baird was wearing his seat belt at the time. Thurston was not. It was unclear whether Graybill and Hall were wearing theirs, authorities said.
Orr, who was treated for minor injuries at the scene, was wearing his seat belt. Attempts to reach the families of Baird and Thurston were unsuccessful. Classmates, though, spoke fondly of both students, even as they mourned.
Ashley Saunders, a junior, said she considered Thurston one of her best friends. "She got along with everyone," Saunders said. "She was really pretty and she did really well in school. She loved her family." Saunders said that Thurston, a member of the school chorus, lived with her for about six months when they were younger, after a fire destroyed much of Thurston's home just before the holidays.
She said she remembered teaching her friend how to ride a four-wheeler. "I know she'll be truly missed," she said. Saunders said several of her classmates gathered in the library after school to mourn and find support. Students said Russell Eugene Lomax, a local preacher and teacher at the school, led a group in prayer at the school flagpole after second-period classes had ended.
Chase Deaton, a sophomore, recalled Baird as a positive student with a permanent smile. "After the announcement, my classroom was completely quiet," Deaton said. "Many students were crying and some even left the school because they were so upset.
The lunchroom was even fairly quiet." The sophomore added: "In hard times like these, the people at Staunton River High School become a family." Sophomore Blake Green, one of Baird's teammates on the varsity football team, said he felt his friend was one of the hardest-working players on the team.
According to an announcement by SC&G Recreation, a youth sports league, this weekend's Harvest Bowl has been renamed the Jacob Baird Invitational, as a show of support. Baird, who had planned to help referee at the event, has a younger brother scheduled to participate.
Even as Staunton River students recalled their classmates, they also spoke warily of the stretch of highway where the wreck took place. The road there snakes onto and around several small hills, creating blind spots for motorists.
"I know several people who have been involved in accidents on that road," Deaton said. "I believe some kind of changes should be made to make the roadway safer than it is right now."
Saunders echoed her classmate's remarks. "I think its partly because some students in Bedford County think that a wreck isn't going to happen, or that it'll happen to someone else," she said. "But it's also probably because the roads are not the greatest here. Also, there are a lot of deer."
Between Jan.1 and Oct. 31, there have been 70 fatalities in Virginia involving victims between the ages of 16 and 20, according to a preliminary report from the Virginia Highway Safety Office. Of those, three occurred in Franklin County, one in Montgomery County and one in Radford.
The one in Franklin County, an Oct. 14 crash, killed Rufus McGill II, 19, of Roanoke and Hannah Long, 15, of Vinton. Long was a student at Liberty High School. Her father, Ron Long, is the varsity wrestling coach at Staunton River High School.
"We're seeing an increase in teen fatalities statewide this year," said Mary King, program administrator of Youth of Virginia Speak Out About Traffic Safety. "We need to focus on the teen drivers," she said. "They have to get over this impression that they're invincible." Staunton River High School was also shaken by a deadly traffic crash in March 2004 that claimed the lives of two of its students, Barbara Janae Mills and Virginia Dawn Creasy, in addition to Michael A. Williams of Roanoke's Patrick Henry High School.
All three Bedford County middle and high schools have active YOVASO clubs, which promote traffic safety among students.