FAIRPORT, N.Y. – Five young women who graduated last week from a suburban Rochester high school were killed when the sport utility vehicle they were in crashed head-on into a tractor-trailer and burst into flames, authorities said Wednesday.
Deputies said the SUV then veered into the westbound lane where it collided with the tractor-trailer. Both vehicles caught fire.
The victims were pronounced dead at the scene, deputies said.
Fairport High School David Paddock said four of the women were members of the cheerleading squad — Bailey Goodman, Hannah Congdon, Meredith McClure and Sara Monnat — and he identified the fifth as Katie Shirley. All five graduated Thursday.
"It is with overwhelming sadness that I inform all of you that five of our children, all of whom just graduated from FHS last Thursday evening, lost their lives earlier tonight in a car accident," Paddock wrote in an e-mail sent to parents early Wednesday morning.
He said the group was heading to the Keuka Lake camp of one of their parents and four friends were following in another car when the accident happened.
By 8:30 Wednesday morning, dozens of students, teachers and a few parents — some of them hugging and weeping — had gathered on a hillside overlooking the school, located in a tidy Erie Canal village of about 6,000, located 10 miles southeast of Rochester.
"I really just came to hug the kids and cry with them. I don't understand any more about this than they do," said Cathy Tocci, religious education director at the village's Church of the Assumption. Tocci said Congdon and Monnat were members of her church.
"Our hearts just explode and it just makes the grieving so hard because we build such a community for youth," said Debra Tandoi, a town official who works with young people in the schools. "We love them all."
Marcus Merriman, an 18-year-old student who knew all the victims, described Hannah Congdon as "probably my best friend."
"She always had a perfect smile on her face. She said 'hi' to everyone in the halls. She was very caring and sympathetic," he said.
The crash happened along a 55-mph stretch just before the crest of a slight rise on a two-lane road in the rural town of East Bloomfield, a western Finger Lakes community about 20 miles southeast of Rochester.
The SUV ended up on the side of the road and partially under the charred rig, which was being removed from the scene late Wednesday morning. A nearby maple tree was scorched by flames.
The wreck knocked down utility lines, cutting phone service in the western half of Ontario County. Route 5 remained closed until about 6 a.m. Wednesday. The truck driver, David Laverty, 50, of Olean, wasn't injured.
The cause of the crash remains under investigation.