HUNTINGTON — Mourners will gather Friday morning to remember a mother and two students, whose lives ended Thursday en route to class at St. Joseph’s Central Catholic High School.
The two-vehicle crash occurred about 7:30 a.m. on Alternate W.Va. 10. It was located just north of Edens Branch Lost Valley Road, between Huntington and Barboursville.
The impact trapped the deceased victims in their burning vehicle. They were identified as Carole Crawford, 47; Meaghan Crawford, 16; and Kelsey Kuhn, 15, all of Barboursville.
“We have a tremendous loss of life,” said Cabell County Sheriff’s Sgt. R. B. Chafin. “That’s going to affect this whole community.”
Friday’s memorial service will start at 8:30 a.m. at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. It will serve as a gathering place for the grief and support expressed by many Thursday.
The deaths touched Catholic and Protestant communities alike. Students at St. Joseph’s High were placed in lock down Thursday morning. It helped to control the release of news so priests could meet with families involved.
On the radio, a special message greeted listeners of Jeff “Crawdawg” Crawford on WDGG 93.7 FM. The crash killed the disc jockey’s wife and daughter.
Aftermath from the two-vehicle crash closed Alternate W.Va. 10 for approximately four hours Thursday. Crews were faced with a meticulous investigation and extensive damage.
“As accidents go, they get no worse,” Chafin said of damage caused by the crash.
Chafin said the other vehicle was a 2002 Ford Explorer driven by Erma Brown, 41, of Barboursville. Paramedics transported her to St. Mary’s Medical Center. Investigators expected Brown to survive, but updates as to her condition were unavailable.
Chafin said detectives would explore all angles in hopes to determine a cause for the fatal crash. The Huntington Police Department and the Cabell County Prosecutor’s Office provided assistance.
The preliminary investigation indicates the Crawfords’ 1999 Subaru Forester was headed south. Brown’s Explorer traveled in the opposite direction.
Chafin said the impact spun the Explorer and sent the Forester over a small embankment. The Forester caught fire. Its occupants could not escape, despite attempts by nearby resident Mike Edens and others.
“I just wish I hadn’t went over there. There was nothing I could do,” he said.
Edens vividly remembers the cries of those trapped inside the Forester. So does, Frances Rosenberger. She was a passer-by who unknowingly drove onto the scene.
“In no time the car was engulfed,” she said. “I knew some of them were still in the car. Just knowing that they couldn’t be helped and couldn’t be saved, I didn’t know how to process it. I was crying and hysterical.”
Chafin said vehicle fires are not rare. The size often depends upon impact of the crash. Edens said the intensity of Thursday’s fire grew as the rescue attempt continued. He said the citizen rescuers were forced to back away for fear of an explosion.
“About that time we got back on the road, and it blew. There were flames going higher than those telephone lines,” Edens said.
The deaths and extensive damage emotionally affected many first responders at the scene.
“It gets no harder,” Chafin said. “You see stuff that really no one should see, but you have to as part of your job ... It’s wear and tear on an officer. That officer has to stay at the scene for, in this case, hours.”
Thursday’s vehicle crash happened several yards from another fatal accident years earlier. A wooden cross with red flowers marked the prior crash site Thursday morning.
Edens recalled several passed accidents and said people drive too fast along the stretch of Alternate W.Va. 10. Chafin said Alternate W.Va. 10 is no more dangerous than other roads in that area, despite proximity of the two fatal crashes.
Chafin said investigators believed Brown’s seat belt and airbag saved her life. The sergeant said extensive fire damage prevented investigators from determining if those in the Crawfords’ vehicle wore seat belts at the time.
“In this incident, I don’t know if that would have even mattered,” Chafin said of seat belts and airbags in the Forester.
Bodies of the deceased victims were transported to the state Medical Examiner’s Office in Charleston for positive identification, which Sheriff Tom McComas believed will confirm identities developed by his investigators.
The West Virginia State Police, Barboursville Police Department, the Barboursville Volunteer Fire Department and Cabell County EMS assisted in Thursday’s response.