Three cheerleaders killed in wreck

October 25, 2008 7:21:11 PM PDT
A rural East Tennessee community was grieving Saturday for three high school cheerleaders who died in a fiery car crash hours after they had been cheering on their football team. A sport utility vehicle carrying four cheerleaders collided with an oncoming car late Friday night on a wet, foggy highway in Scott County, northwest of Knoxville, authorities said.

Three of the four girls in the SUV died, and a passenger in the car was killed. The surviving teenager was ejected from the vehicle and was in critical condition Saturday at the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville.

"It's more than a shock and we are just horrified," said Cynthia Reynolds, the cheerleading coach at Scott High School. She said the girls went out after the game to celebrate another cheerleader's birthday. "They were really, really close."

Police identified the teenagers killed as Scarlette A. Hill, 17; Jaime Hill, 15; and driver Shirley N. Hughett, 16. The survivor is Ashley Mason, 15.

A passenger in the car, Jeweline Ledbetter King, 49, was killed. King's 22-year-old daughter-in-law, Miranda King, was sitting in the back seat and lost her unborn child from injuries in the crash.

Investigators believe the crash was caused in part by the slick and foggy conditions, and a preliminary report indicated none of the girls in the SUV was wearing a seat belt, said Laura McPherson, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Highway Patrol.

Scott High School Principal Bill Hall said the teens were considered leaders on the squad and were well-liked in the close-knit school of 800 students.

"We're all devastated," he said. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to their families and the other victims that were involved."

The car's driver, Malcum King, 22, and a 10-month-old child, Aiden Wilson, also were injured and taken to a hospital. The conditions of the car's survivors were not immediately known.

Investigators believe the SUV hydroplaned on a curve on the two-lane highway, flipped on its side and crossed the center lane, slamming into the oncoming Ford Taurus. The SUV erupted into flames.

McPherson said investigators believe passengers were still trapped inside the second vehicle when the SUV caught fire a few feet away. A passing motorist used an all-terrain vehicle to pull the Taurus away from the burning SUV, she said.

Patsy Allen, grandmother of the Hill sisters, said Jaime started cheerleading two years ago. Scarlette, who goes by her middle name Alisha, started cheerleading in 7th grade.

"They were good girls," Allen said. "Jaime was outgoing. Everyone liked them both. They made average grades. Alisha was looking forward to starting college."

Reynolds said the 16-member cheerleading team met for dinner at a McDonald's after the home game ended in a loss to Anderson County 48-19. Shortly after midnight, Reynolds said she got a call about the accident and spent most of the night with the team at the hospital.

School officials discussed offering grief counseling, and a memorial for students and families also was planned. Funeral arrangements were pending.

The crash occurred on U.S. Highway 27 in Scott County, which sits on the Tennessee-Kentucky state line. It shut down the highway for about eight hours.

Those in the other vehicle were from neighboring Fentress County, McPherson said.

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