Car goes off bridge, 3 teens killed

March 6, 2009 11:40:29 AM PST
Three high school students killed when the car they were in ran off a bridge and rolled down an embankment into a stream 300 feet below may have been racing, police say. Summit Township police said Austin Johnson, 16, was driving when the car went off the bridge on Route 219 about 3:30 p.m. Thursday. Two passengers, Lee Gnagey, 16, and Logan Buterbaugh, 15, also died. All were from Meyersdale, about 70 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.

State police in Greensburg, which provided an accident reconstruction team, said in a news release that Johnson was apparently racing at least one other vehicle. They referred calls to Summit police, who did not immediately return messages Friday.

Summit Township police Chief Nathan Claycomb said Thursday that Johnson's car struck a guardrail before being launched off the bridge. All were wearing seat belts. Claycomb said he could not release additional details while the investigation continued. Autopsies were planned.

"It's an unfortunate tragedy when three young lives are lost before their time," Claycomb said.

All three played baseball and had practice that evening, Meyersdale Area School District Superintendent Dr. Tracey Karlie said Friday. They also played football, and Buterbaugh took part in school musicals.

"It's difficult enough when you have one student, but when you have three in a small community such as ours, we really believe it's going to affect the entire community," he said.

Officials held a counseling session for students Thursday night, and Karlie said additional counseling would be offered as long as needed.

State police issued a public service announcement cautioning safety after the crash, the second fatal one in western Pennsylvania within a week that involved young drivers who were speeding.

"We wanted to get the message out - 'Spring's coming, the weather's getting nicer and there's going to be more kids out, but you have to obey the laws and drive in a safe fashion,"' said state police spokeswoman Jeanne Martin.

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