A car trying to outrun a police officer ran off a road and crashed early Monday, killing all seven teenagers inside, the Highway Patrol said.
The driver was identified as a 15-year-old, and the father of one of the victims said none of the teens had licenses and the group had been borrowing cars for joyrides.
A police officer from Troutman began chasing the car after seeing the 2001 Dodge Intrepid (search) weaving in its lane, the patrol said.
"They passed us going 85 to 100 miles an hour with the police car passing us," said a witness, Brandon Jackson.
Troutman police Chief Eric Henderson said Officer Keith Bills chased the car for about a mile on U.S. 21 until it flipped over after hitting an embankment, crashed into a tree and then skidded to a stop upside down in a creek.
Bills, however, said he tried to stop the car only briefly, following it about 500 yards before it sped out of sight.
"It was swerving, slowing down and speeding up, just erratic driving," Bills told the Statesville Record & Landmark. Bills said he did not see the crash, but found the wreckage later.
The Highway Patrol identified the dead as driver John Lindsey Myers, 15, and passengers David Wayne Summers, 14, Quentin Maurice Reed, 18, Antonio Miller, 13, Domnick Hurtt, 17, Erica Stevenson, 15, and Antoinette Griffin, 13, all from Statesville.
All were pronounced dead at the scene, and none was wearing a seat belt, the Highway Patrol said.
Howard Hurtt said his son and the boy's friends had recently been borrowing cars from people they knew and going for rides.
"They were just out joyriding and a cop pulls them over and here we have seven deaths. I lost my only son," Hurtt said.
Dyrita Ellis, 31, who came to the scene with her teenage daughter and a cousin, said the five boys who died were a tight-knit group.
"We just saw them yesterday," she said. "They were happy and laughing. ... It looks like they were out having fun last night, just doing their Christmas holiday break."
The car had been moved by midmorning, but 50-foot skid marks showed where it abruptly veered off the highway. Glass was embedded in the tree's trunk, and car parts were visible around the creek.
"You see these kids driving these fast cars and they have no sense," said Bucky Edwards, who stopped by to survey the damage. "It's so sad."
Troutman, about 35 miles north of Charlotte, has about 1,600 residents.