BOWLING GREEN, Ohio – A vehicle that had traveled the wrong way for several miles on an Ohio interstate slammed head-on Friday into a car full of sorority sisters caravanning to an airport for a spring break trip to the Dominican Republic, killing three of the young women and the other driver.
The car carrying the three Alpha Xi Delta members, ages 19 to 21, and two other sorority sisters hit the wrong-way vehicle overnight on a rise in Interstate 75 south of Toledo, just miles from Bowling Green State University, which they all attended. The two survivors were seriously injured.
Sixteen sorority sisters were heading to the Detroit airport in different cars as they tried to make a 5:30 a.m. flight, a friend said. Another vehicle carrying five of the students narrowly avoided the wrong-way driver, Ohio state troopers said.
"I don't think the college girls ever saw it coming. Nothing they could have done to avoid the crash," Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn said.
The wrong-way driver, Winifred D. Lein, 69, of Perrysburg, Ohio, was traveling alone and was pronounced dead at the scene, authorities said. Investigators are looking into why she was driving on the wrong side of the divided highway, and 911 and police radio traffic indicate she had been heading the wrong direction for at least seven miles.
"The college girls apparently did nothing wrong," Wasylyshyn said.
Killed were Rebekah Blakkolb, 20, a junior from Aurora, Ohio; Christina Goyett, 19, a sophomore from Bay City, Mich., who was studying teacher education; and Sarah Hammond, 21, a junior from Yellow Springs, Ohio, majoring in apparel merchandising, the university said.
Goyett was excited about her first trip to the Dominican Republic, said Dee Bishop, a family friend in Bay City. She was a graduate of John Glenn High School, where she competed in swimming.
"She was an absolutely wonderful, positive, happy person," Bishop said.
She had just visited with her family Thursday at a surprise birthday party for her mother, Robyn, at a Bay City restaurant, and driven back to the campus several hours to the south.
On campus, troopers dropped off the victims' luggage so it could be returned to families. Students dropped off flowers and held each other outside the sorority house in Bowling Green, a stately brick building with a columned porch and white shutters. Members of the sorority of about 65 students wouldn't speak to reporters.
The injured were identified as Angelica Mormile, 19, a freshman from Garfield Heights, Ohio, and Kayla Somoles, 19, a sophomore from Cleveland. Bowling Green President Mary Ellen Mazey said in a Facebook post that they had serious injuries.
"In this case, it's just one of those tragedies that's hard to understand," university Provost Rodney Rogers said. "We're reminded in these times that life is very precious."
Spring break begins Saturday for the university of about 18,000 students located about 30 miles south of Toledo.
The accident happened around 2:30 a.m. Truckers had reported the wrong-way driver, and a state highway patrol officer had seen her car and begun a pursuit when the crash happened on the highway, which is divided by a wide, raised grassy median. Initial police calls said people were trapped.
Lein was cited in 2002 in Toledo Municipal Court for a lane changing violation, according to court records. A message was left at a phone listing for her.
The accident recalled a similar tragedy 10 years ago, when six Bowling Green students were killed while returning home from a spring break trip to Florida.
The students, all 19, were returning from Panama City, Fla., on March 15, 2002, when their minivan slid into oncoming traffic and was struck by a tractor-trailer.
Authorities said severe winds and heavy rain may have contributed to the crash, which happened on Interstate 71 in Kentucky.
The sorority sisters' death was the second school tragedy in five days in Ohio. Three students were fatally shot Monday and two others seriously wounded at Chardon High School east of Cleveland. A 17-year-old was charged.
Associated Press writers Thomas J. Sheeran in Cleveland and Andrew Welsh-Huggins in Columbus contributed to this report.