Reporting Fran Schneidau
GRISWOLD, CT (AP / WCBS 880) - A 16-year-old boy was behind the wheel in a one-car accident that killed him and three other teenagers in eastern Connecticut, police said Wednesday.
WCBS 880 Connecticut Bureau Chief Fran Schneidau reports
Authorities were investigating what caused John Clapper to lose control of the car and strike a tree Tuesday afternoon in Griswold, a rural town 40 miles southeast of Hartford where the deaths sent shock waves through the high school.
The only surviving passenger is 16-year-old Joel Gallup, who was sitting in the back seat of the 2007 Nissan Altima at the time of the accident, according to a state police report. He was hospitalized in critical condition.
It was unclear whether any of the passengers were wearing seat belts, according to the report.
Grief counselors were working with high school students as classed resumed Wednesday at Griswold High School. Two state police cruisers were outside the school building and television news trucks were parked nearby.
“When five students are involved in a situation like this, it affects everybody,” Superintendent of Schools Paul Freeman said in an interview. “It’s a huge loss to our community and everybody in our school and everybody in our town is feeling it right now.”
The others killed in the accident on a tree-lined road were identified as 16-year-old Sativa Cornell, 15-year-old Steven Szklarz and 16-year-old Dillon Clifford. Three died at the scene and a fourth died at a local hospital.
The car involved in the accident was registered to a woman with the same address as Cornell, who was sitting in the passenger side of the front seat at the time of the accident, according to the report. A woman who answered the phone at Cornell’s address declined to comment.
Griswold has a population of about 12,000 and only 750 students attend the high school.
Jim Pendergast, a 38-year-old home contractor, said his 16-year-old daughter Samantha knows at least a couple of the victims. He said she drove by the crash site as she returned from her great-grandmother’s funeral Tuesday afternoon.
“I really don’t know what to tell you. It’s a sad thing. You don’t want to lose any kids, let alone four,” Pendergast said inside a convenience store.
Freeman said the school administration coordinated with police and the fire department to arrange support for students and teachers. He said the mood at the school as “very quiet” and everyone was shocked.
“We know that we’ve suffered a terrible loss,” he said. “We told our students today that it’s important for them to talk to each other, to talk to the staff members who are around them and to allow us to help them get through the day.”
Investigators are still trying to determine the cause of the crash.
“We’ll examine everything and anything to determine what happened,” state police spokesman Lt. J. Paul Vance said.
The crash occurred as Connecticut marked Teen Safe Driving Week, and a day after transportation officials announced that fatal crashes in the state were at a 12-year low among 16- and 17-year-old drivers.
Following several high-profile tragedies, Gov. M. Jodi Rell had created a task force on teen driving, which recommended more stringent laws that state lawmakers passed in 2008.
They included moving the teen driving curfew to 11 p.m. and doubling the amount of behind-the-wheel training required for teenagers.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)