GAINESVILLE (CBSDFW.COM) – Four members of the North Central Texas College softball team never made it back home this past weekend. They were killed in a crash as the team returned from a doubleheader in Oklahoma. The National Transportation Safety Board is now investigating the incident, as friends and family members pay their respects.
The violent crash happened Friday night along Interstate-35 near Ardmore, Oklahoma. The team was heading back to their college campus located in Gainesville. The coach was driving the bus carrying 15 players when they were struck by an 18-wheeler traveling the opposite direction along the roadway.READ MORE: Southwest Airlines Jets Flying Again After Being Grounded Due To 'System-Wide Error'
According to the NTSB, the truck showed no signs of slowing down. Investigators also found that the truck had no brake problems, and traveled an estimated 300 yards before hitting the bus. “The preliminary look of the tire marks finds no indication of skidding, braking or evasive maneuvers,” said NTSB investigator Robert Sumwalt.
Kaylea Armstrong is one of the bus crash survivors. She walked away with just a few stitches, and is now recovering at home near Wichita Falls. “It was pitch dark,” she said. “I was hoping it was a horrible nightmare and I would wake up.”
The four victims have been identified as 20-year-old Brooke Deckard of Blue Ridge, 20-year-old Jaiden Pelton of Telephone, 19-year-old Meagan Richardson of Wylie and 18-year-old Katelynn Woodlee of Windom.
The driver of the truck has been identified as 53-year-old Russell Staley of Saginaw. Officials said that he was distracted by something inside of the truck’s cab. He is not currently facing any charges, but the investigation is ongoing. “The truck trailer was equipped with GPS tracking, and we’re beginning to obtain data from that,” said Sumwalt. “They’re in one-second intervals, provides latitude and longitude, helps us obtain a 2-D picture of how the truck was traveling.”
Meanwhile, loved ones spent the weekend remembering the four young women who lost their lives in the crash. A vigil was held on Sunday night at NCTC, and some family members of the victims were in attendance. Mourners brought flowers, softballs and personal messages. Everybody on the college campus has been asked to wear blue on Monday in honor of the victims.
NCTC president Brent Wallace said, “I would like to offer my sincere condolences to these families. This is the most traumatic event that NCTC has had in its 90 years of history.”
Students and staff members at Wylie High School in Collin County are remembering Richardson, who played for the school’s softball team for four years before graduating last year. Her sister still attends the high school as a senior. The family joined other students at the campus for a memorial over the weekend.
“She was sweet. She was funny,” said close friend Jill Carter. “She was always laughing. Her laugh was one of a kind. She was a great friend. We are going to miss her.”
Wylie High School principal Virdie Montgomery said that he remembers Richardson helping a freshman who was being hassled by other students over a lunchbox. “It was getting a little out of hand. The kid was getting frustrated by it, and Meagan didn’t miss a beat. As soon as she saw it, she goes over there, snatches the lunchpail from those kids, gives it back to its owner and then she lectures those kids about how to treat other people.”READ MORE: Opposition To 'Pride Month' Proclamation In Rowlett Could Lead City Council To Limit Mayor's Power
A similar vigil was held in Fannin County on Sunday, where about 200 people packed a high school football field to honor Woodlee.
And around 650 people from Blue Ridge gathered at First Baptist Church on Sunday to remember Deckard. Residents of the small town tied black and blue ribbons to light posts and mailboxes in the woman’s honor. Deckard graduated from Blue Ridge High School last year. “She is literally the best person I ever met,” said friend Kyra Malone. “You can’t get any better than her.”
“We lost vital people for a team, vital people for friends,” Armstrong said. “They were not only our teammates, but also our best friends.”
Two other hurt softball players, both originally from Kaufman County, are now recovering in the hospital. Rachel Hitt of Scurry is in fair condition at Norman Regional Hospital, and Bailey Buchanan from Crandall is in critical condition at Oklahoma University Medical Center.
The truck was owned by Quickway Transportation of Nashville. The company has not been involved in a fatal crash in at least the past two years. A statement from CEO William P. Prevost read:
We want to offer our thoughts and prayers to the families of Meagan, Brooke, Katelynn and Jaiden, and the rest of the North Central Texas College community. We are also praying for a full recovery for the ladies that remain in the hospital.
Trusting in God’s grace, we hope to one day join the college in properly memorializing these ladies lives and their legacy.
We will continue to fully cooperate with Oklahoma State Patrol, the National Transportation Safety Board, and other authorities in their investigation of this tragedy. We give thanks for the continued improvement of Bailey Buchanan and Rachel Hitt and will continue to pray for their full recovery.
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