Janeal Priester and Nicholas Wright (Channel 2 Action News)

Woman charged in crash that killed high school sweethearts

More than 13 months after high school sweethearts Janeal Priester and Nicholas Wright were killed in a crash down the road from Paulding County High School, authorities on Monday announced an arrest in the case.

A Paulding County grand jury recently indicted Sarah Elizabeth Dowdy on vehicular homicide and other charges in connection with the June 2015 crash, sheriff’s Sgt. Ashley Henson said. Dowdy, 23, of Hiram, surrendered about noon Monday at the Paulding County Jail.

The Georgia State Patrol, which investigated the fatal crash, initially said Priester was at fault. The agency’s preliminary investigation showed Priester, 18, of Dallas, was driving a 2003 Oldsmobile Alero about 9:30 p.m. June 17 and failed to yield while turning left onto Ga. 61 from Old Villa Rica Road. The Oldsmobile was struck on the driver’s side by Dowdy’s 2007 Toyota Camry, which was traveling southbound on Ga. 61, the state patrol’s Tracey Watson told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution at the time.

The high school sweethearts died at the scene. Priester had just graduated from Paulding County High School. Wright, 17, of Dallas, was a rising senior. Priester’s brother and backseat passenger, Joshua Priester, 16, of Dallas, was injured and flown to Grady Memorial Hospital. Dowdy was taken by ambulance to WellStar Kennestone Hospital.

Days after the crash, a witness came forward with a different version of events. Kerstin Liberty told Channel 2 Action News the driver of the Camry caused the wreck, not Priester. She said she was driving along Ga. 61 when the Camry and a Ford Mustang got her attention. They were driving erratically, speeding up and slowing down before the Camry crashed into the Oldsmobile, Liberty told the television station.

That account prompted the state patrol to reconsider charges in the case, according to Channel 2.

Dowdy is in the county jail on two counts of first degree vehicular homicide, one count of serious injury by vehicle, one count of speeding and one count of reckless driving. She is being held there in lieu of $27,700 bond.

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