Just days before the end of the school year, tragedy struck the University of Georgia community. A two-vehicle crash Wednesday night killed four students and left a fifth in critical condition.
Investigators believe the five women were traveling northbound on Ga. 15, toward the UGA campus, when the white Toyota Camry crossed the center line, according to the Georgia State Patrol. A southbound Chevrolet Cobalt struck the side of the Toyota on the two-lane road in Watkinsville shortly before 9 p.m.
Kayla Canedo, 19, of Alpharetta; Brittany Feldman, 20, of Alpharetta; Christina Semeria, 19, of Milton; and Halle Scott, 19, of Dunwoody all died. The driver of the Camry, Agnes Kim, 21, of Snellville, was in critical condition late Thursday morning. The driver of the Cobalt, Abby Short, 27, of Demorest, was also injured, but released from the hospital Thursday morning.
All of the women in the Toyota were wearing seatbelts except for Semeria, who was seated behind Kim, according to the GSP. Semeria was ejected in the crash, which remained under investigation. No details were released on a possible cause of crash, but alcohol was not a factor, GSP said.
The wreck shut down Ga. 15, also known as Greensboro Highway, for several hours Wednesday night. The Oconee County Sheriff’s Office said one car involved, the Toyota, had a Gwinnett County tag. But word spread quickly to the Athens campus that the wreck involved five of the more than 35,000 students at UGA.
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Three students died at the scene of the crash and two others were taken to Athens Regional Medical Center. A fourth student died at the hospital, where a fifth, Kim, remained late Thursday. Kim remained in a coma and had injuries, her pastor said Thursday afternoon. Her parents were at her bedside.
Oconee Sheriff Scott Berry posted on Facebook that both he and UGA police Chief Jimmy Williamson spent the night at the hospital, along with dozens of students, including Young Life members, a Christian ministry.
“We grieve with them and we pray for comfort and solace during these unimaginable circumstances,” Berry posted. “The surviving occupant of the car is in critical condition and we pray for her healing as I am sure you do.”
UGA President Jere Morehead was visibly shaken at a news conference Thursday morning.
“The loss of any student is very difficult,” Morehead said. “A tragedy of this magnitude is truly devastating. Anytime you lose a young person who has their entire life ahead of them that’s a horrible tragedy, and in this case that’s obviously magnified by the tragedy that happened last night.”
At the campus Young Life center, about 20 students spent the night on the rug, not wanting to leave after learning of the crash. Agnes Kim, a senior, has been involved with Young Life since her freshman year, Jana Harwell, the area director, said Thursday.
“Everyone loves her,” Harwell said. “She’s a fantastic person and very committed to serving young people.”
To honor the crash victims, Gov. Nathan Deal ordered all flags be flown at half-staff, Deal’s office posted on Twitter.
“Today, we are all Bulldogs,” he said.
Thursday afternoon, about 100 students gathered for an impromptu vigil to remember and pray for the students involved in the fatal car crash.
Students Zach Davie and Samuel Vaughn, organizers of an on-campus religious group known as The Field, coordinated the outdoor service in the Tate Center Plaza.
“Obviously all of us UGA students want to help and do all we can during this difficult time,” David said. “And obviously, we can’t all pile into a hospital room at the same time, so we figured the next best thing to do was to have a prayer service in an open area where as many people can attend as possible. It was such a blessing to see so many come to support the families and Agnes as she recovers.”
A university-wide vigil is scheduled for 5 p.m. at the Tate Center Plaza to remember the students.
Wednesday night’s crash happened a year and five days after the Georgia Southern University community suffered a similar tragedy. Five nursing students were killed April 22, 2015, in a fiery crash near Savannah.
— Staff writers Lauren Foreman, Craig Schneider and Janel Davis contributed to this report.