Two days into spring break, five area teens were killed in an early morning single-vehicle wreck.
Officials responded to the crash just minutes after 1 a.m. Sunday morning on Keir Lane off Canyon Ferry Road.
Three male and two female teenagers were traveling southbound on the paved road in a 1996 Chevy extended cab pickup when the vehicle failed to negotiate the curve and went straight into the embankment, Montana Highway Patrol Trooper Jeramy Rice said.
Coroner Mickey Nelson released the names of the victims shortly after 6 p.m. Sunday.
They were Andre D. Hartwig, 18, of East Helena; Beau A. Miller-Lopane, 18, of East Helena; Eric A. Prudhomme, 18, and his sister, Danielle R. Prudhomme, 15, of Helena; and Chanda M. Scarber, 18, of Helena. Hartwig was driving the vehicle.
Nelson described the crash as an “extreme high-impact accident.”
The three boys were in the front seat of the vehicle and the girls were in the extended cab. No one was ejected from the truck, but no one was wearing seat belts, Rice said.
Rice said speed was a factor, alcohol was a probable factor, and drug paraphernalia was found in the truck.
All five young people trapped in the vehicle suffered massive body and head trauma, Rice said. All five died at the scene.
Lewis and Clark Sheriff Leo Dutton said there is quite a substantial rise in the road in the area, and then it flattens out. Some describe the rise and fall in the road as a type of “thrill hill.”
“As people begin their spring break, what a sobering reminder this is of how a few instances can bring tragic results,” Dutton said. “A lapse in judgment will bring a lifetime of pain.”
Superintendent of Helena Schools Bruce Messinger said because school isn’t in session for another week, administration will likely take a modified approach.
Under normal circumstances, grief counselors would be on hand at the schools for friends of the victims or others having a hard time coping with the loss.
“It is possible we’ll do outreach and add more support as the students return,” Messinger said.
A central location may be established, Messinger said, where students or families could come to grieve. Even though some staff members are out of town for the break, he is confident there is enough of his educational team around to respond to student and family needs.
Many friends, family and loved ones gathered at the crash site the throughout the day on Sunday, Dutton said.
The crash site, which witnesses describe as a gruesome hole in the earth, is less than 10 feet from two crosses marking where two other teens were killed in a crash in April 1999.
“It’s almost a carbon copy,” Nelson said.
Nelson said in his 36 years as coroner this is the first time that five people were killed in one accident.
“This is a real tragedy to not only the families, but the entire community,” Nelson said.
Reporter Alana Listoe: 447-4081