Local News

Princeton High School grieves again after two-death crash

Posted September 18, 2008 5:37 a.m. EDT
Updated September 20, 2008 8:15 p.m. EDT

— Exactly one year after a Princeton High School student died in a car crash, students and staff were mourning again after a senior and a recent graduate died in a wreck Wednesday night.

Brandon Lee Baker, 21, and Matthew Brandon Stewart, 17, died after their green Saturn crossed the center line on Fellowship Church Road and hit a Jeep driven by an elderly woman around 8:30 p.m.

Stewart is the fourth Princeton senior to die in a car crash in the past 12 months. Baker was a graduate of Princeton.

"It's just hard, just to see that they're both gone," said Baker's brother, Tyler, who was a fellow senior at Princeton with Stewart.

A helicopter and two ambulances took the 80-year-old Jeep driver and the Saturn’s driver and other passenger – also Princeton students – to a hospital.

The students had serious injuries but were expected to be OK. The 80-year-old, female victim was listed in critical condition after undergoing surgery at Duke University Medical Center Thursday afternoon.

"She was in pretty bad shape, real bad shape, a lot of lacerations and broken bones," the victim's nephew, Roger Brown, said.

The extent of the injuries of the Saturn's occupants was not known.

Authorities said they believe speed might have been a factor in the crash.

Both Stewart and Baker played football at Princeton and were members of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, according to school officials.

Mourners created a roadside memorial with two wooden crosses and a bracelet hung on the branch of a plant at the wreck scene. Students came to the memorial throughout Thursday.

Princeton lowered its flags to half-staff in remembrance of the young men.

Tyler Baker described his brother as "a great guy, loving. He'd do anything for anybody."

Stewart was "my best friend," Tyler Baker said. "He brings me home every day from football practice. I mean, we do everything together."

Brown came to the wreck scene Thursday, concerned about the two young men who died.

When Baker's family saw him, they rushed over to comfort Brown and offer prayers for his aunt.

"It's just one of those things, you know," Brown said. "You've got to leave it in God's hands."

Thursday marked the one-year anniversary of the death of Princeton senior Gilbert Martin. He died after losing control of his car on Progressive Church Road.

Johnston County law enforcement officials say the number of auto-related teen deaths is alarming. In 2007, the county led the state with 11 fatalities.

Neighboring Harnett County had two fatalities, while Wake and Wayne counties each had one. A senior and a junior from Green Hope High School in Cary died Nov. 7 in a crash in Chatham County.

Authorities say growth in Johnston County combined with winding rural roads to which students are not paying enough attention are factors in the high number of fatalities.