1 Boy Killed, Six Injured After Van Hits Students Standing Outside Smithfield Middle School
Posted March 3, 2003
SMITHFIELD, N.C. March 23, 2000 — The driver of a minivan lost control Wednesday morning in front of the entrance to Smithfield Middle School, killing an 11-year-old student and injuring six others standing in front of the building.
Officials say the Chrysler-made minivan was being driven by Sara Kennedy, 84, of Smithfield. She had just dropped off her granddaughter, Caress West, at the school. Kennedy was pulling out of the parking area just after 7:30 a.m. when the minivan suddenly went into reverse.
Her granddaughter, who had just stepped out of the van to go to class, saw the van moving in the wrong direction.
"I just looked inside the van, and I just walked away and started crying," West says. "My grandmother gave me my project, and I guess she put it in reverse, and she thought she had it in drive, and she lost control."
Witnesses say the minivan went over the curb and across a grassy area, about 60-70 feet, knocked down a pole, then hit seven students, all males between 11 years old and 14 years old. The minivan also hit the school building, breaking some windows.
"I just saw the car just come back and hit the pole, and I just saw children going everywhere," remembers student Nicole Woodard.
EMS workers arrived to a chaotic scene, including confused parents.
"Someone called and told me -- I don't know who they were or anything -- that it was my daughter, and thank God it wasn't," parent Lucinda Eason says.
Smithfield EMS coordinator Billy Langston says one student was completely run over by the minivan, one was trapped under the van, and several students were pinned between the vehicle and the brick wall.
Many students scrambled to try to help the injured children.
"I pulled out Byrone (Murray), and his dad was with me," says student Matt Overby. "We went to lay him over on the side. I just tried to keep him awake for as long as I could."
The driver of the minivan and five of the injured students were transported to Johnston Memorial Hospital, which is very close to the school.
Eleven-year-old Byrone J. Murray of Clayton died at Johnston Memorial Hospital. He had been pinned to the wall of the school.
Antwon Patterson, 11, of Smithfield, and driver Sara Kennedy are in stable condition. Both are being kept overnight for observation.
Curtis W. Price, 13, of Clayton, Tommy D. Holmes, 13, of Smithfield and Matthew Bedsole, 14, of Clayton were also treated and have been released.
Archie Price says his son is hurting, but will be fine.
"He's got a chipped bone in his knee and it is tied to the ligaments," says Price. "They thought there was a possibility they might have to do surgery, but the orthopedic surgeon came in and told him he'd treat it with a splint."
Some students, including sixth-grader Ward Aycock, followed emergency crews to Johnston Memorial to learn more about their friends.
"It's scary, because you're thinking that's your best friend, and they're sitting there, and they're lying there and they're hurt and stuff," Aycock says.
Two students were transported by helicopter to
. Blake Creech, 11, of Smithfield is in serious condition. He was pinned between the minivan and the wall of the school. He suffered a broken pelvis, two broken legs, and minor internal injuries.
Kenneth Mark Frazier, 12, of Wilson's Mills, is in critical condition with serious head injuries. He is out of emergency surgery, which lasted for several hours, and is in the pediatric intensive care unit. Doctors say he still has a long night ahead of him. Both boys face a lengthy recovery and hospital stay.
Dr. Tony Morris of UNC Hospitals says Creech and Frazier were treated by a trauma team that was assembled minutes after the accident. "It was a very coordinated effort," he says.
Bobby Harper, Creech's stepfather, says families of both boys are at UNC Hospitals and are holding up well despite the long wait through surgery. He says they are also thinking about the driver of the minivan.
"We feel for her because we know she didn't mean to do it and we hope she's OK. We know she has a lot to think about, too." says Harper.
Dealing with a Crisis:
The school contacted parents immediately after the accident, but dozens of others showed up to see if their children were injured. A crisis intervention team is working with students and staff.
"What we've done in this particular situation is to bring in counselors and psychologists from other locations as well, so what we've actually done is create a systemwide crisis team, and we're working to handle the situation as best as possible," says Associate Superintendent E.D. Hall.
Dr. Patricia Harris, principal of the school, says more than 20 counselors will be on hand 7 a.m. Friday to help students and teachers deal with the situation.
"I know that this is the saddest day in my career," Harris says. "I know that my heart is broken."
Classes were not canceled, but afterschool activities were. Officials say they believe school is the best place for students because of their access to counseling, and the ability to talk with friends about the situation.
Parents were given permission to take their children home as well.
"We're grateful that our children are OK, but our hearts go out for all the people who are involved in this, and the kids that we know, because we know them all," says parent Paige Parrish.
Several students returned to the school Thursday night to lay flowers on the ground in remembrance of their classmates. Megan Lamm says when she goes to school on Friday, she will have a new outlook on life.
"Never take life for granted because you never know when it is going to be taken away from you," Lamm says.
Smithfield EMS coordinator Billy Langston says an accident such as this one takes an emotional toll on emergency crews. Crisis teams will be available to them as well.
The Smithfield Police Department is investigating the accident. Officials say it is too early to say whether the cause was mechanical, but they have impounded the minivan. Officials say it is also premature to discuss whether charges will be filed.
Officers will work with the
to try and reconstruct the accident.
Reporters: Brian Bowman, Stephanie Hawco, Todd Hauer, Mark Roberts and Yvonne Simons
Photographers: Chad Whisnant, John Cox, Gil Hollingsworth, Robert Meikle and Jim Young
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