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Seniors were returning to school from lunch; driver hospitalized
Friday, October 22, 2004
By Meghan Rubado
Three LaFayette Junior-Senior High School seniors returning to school from a lunch break Thursday died when the car they were in crashed into a tree and split in half, according to Onondaga County sheriff'* deputies.
The driver, who was hospitalized after the crash, was going west on Bull Hill Road in the town of Onondaga in heavy rain when the car went off the road, said Sgt. John D'Eredita, of the Onondaga County Sheriff'* Office. The 1998 Pontiac Bonneville sheared off two evergreen trees and struck a third tree broadside, he said.
The passengers killed, all 17, were Brittany Bowers, of 5955 Commane Road; Janay Davis, of 5921 Bull Hill Road; and Kimberly J. Dix, of 6208 East Route 20. They were pronounced dead at the scene in front of 5791 Bull Hill Road, deputies said.
Davis turned 17 Thursday.
The driver, Joseph M. Marzo, 17, of 2743 Summeridge Road, was listed in serious condition at University Hospital Thursday night, a nursing supervisor said. His injuries did not appear to be life threatening, deputies said.
Investigators believe the driver was traveling at a high rate of speed down a hill around noon when he lost control of the car, which ended up overturned on the north side of the road, D'Eredita said. The speed limit is 35 mph.
Sheriff'* investigators Thursday were working to determine just how fast the car was going when it left the road, said Undersheriff Warren Darby.
Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick speculated that the students may have been in a rush to make it back to school on time.
"It'* obvious the driver was driving very fast," Fitzpatrick said at the scene of the accident. "They were in a hurry for some reason."
Nedrow Chief Harold Smith was the first of the emergency workers to arrive.
"When we got the call, it came in as a one-car accident with unknown injuries," said Smith, who has been a member of the department for 40 years. "There was no indication it was that bad."
Smith saw the three girls still in sections of the car and found Marzo conscious and yelling in pain outside the front part of the car.
He was pulled out by a resident of the neighborhood, D'Eredita said.
"He couldn't feel his legs or his arms," Smith said. "I called back and said, 'Bring everything you've got, we're going to need it.' "
In 2002, the Nedrow Fire Department responded to another crash that took the lives of three other teenage girls from the LaFayette school district. Smith was there.
The LaFayette community has had to deal with a lot of fatalities in a short period of time, he said.
"How many LaFayette fatalities have we had?" Smith asked. The deaths of Bowers, Davis and Dix bring to eight the number of LaFayette students and recent graduates killed in accidents since 2002.
All the students in Thursday'* accident appeared to have been wearing their seat belts, Darby said.
"This was a major impact," the undersheriff said. "The car basically ripped apart."
The cause of the crash likely was a combination of bad weather and excessive speed, Darby said. Alcohol was not a factor, D'Eredita said.
Les Austin of 5666 Bull Hill Road watched at the scene Thursday and said it'* fairly common for cars to speed down the straight road that has no shoulders and deep ditches on either side.
"I've seen quite a few people go into the ditch around here," Austin said.
Smith said he responded to an accident about a month ago after two LaFayette teens jumped from a car that continued on into a house near the intersection of Bull Hill and Sentinel Heights roads.
"They were OK because they jumped out," Smith said. "That was almost a tragedy, too."
LaFayette, Nedrow and Sentinel Heights fire departments responded to the accident.
Above the scene Thursday, a state police helicopter circled around the crash site, taking photographs while sheriff'* investigators worked on a reconstruction of the accident.