LAKE CITY, Fla. - A collision Monday night between two pickup trucks -- each driven by teenagers -- ended with a 17-year-old Columbia High School senior dead and five other teenagers injured.
Lake City police officers responding to an 8:56 p.m. 911 call at the intersection of U.S. 41 and Southwest Malone Street found the two vehicles in the intersection and several teenagers lying in the road.
An off-duty Lake City officer began CPR on Czarrah Howard (pictured, below), who was found unconscious. She was resuscitated and regained consciousness before being transported by ambulance to the Lake City Medical Center to transfer her to an air ambulance. While airborne headed to UF Health Jacksonville, she died of her injuries.
A 16-year-old boy was also transported by air ambulance to Shands UF in Gainesville, and a 17-year-old boy was transported to Shands Lake Shore Hospital, but was transferred to UF Health after discovering that he had a broken neck. Three additional passengers, all teenagers, were transported to Shands Lake Shore and Lake City Medical Center.
Lake City police traffic homicide investigators, assisted by Lake City patrol officers, Columbia County deputies and the Florida Highway Patrol processed the scene before the vehicles were towed, which kept the intersection closed for three hours.
Witnesses told investigators that a black 1991 Chevrolet pickup driven by a 17-year-old boy was driving north on U.S. 41 and entered the intersection at the same time as a green 2001 Ford pickup driven by a 16-year-old boy that was headed west on Malone Drive.
Two of those injured were sitting in the bed of the black truck.
Howard, who was a passenger in the rear cab seat of the green truck, was ejected through the side window. Police said she was not wearing a seat belt.
Columbia High's principal said the teens were leaving a homecoming event of making parade floats when the crash happened.
"It's a very tight-knit community and tight-knit school," Principal Todd Widergren said. "We pride ourselves on taking care of each other, and even though we've got 1,800 students, we're still a big family. When you lose one of your own, it's hard."
"We're all grieving about it," student Eddylis Armas said. "Some of our stands, we have flowers, ribbons and bows. They knew her favorite color was pink, so we're going to wear pink."
Howard is remembered for her smile and positive attitude, a high school senior with a knack for brightening people's days.
"This girl was stopped from being able to do all the the things she wanted to do her senior year, including participating in homecoming," Armas said.
Grief counselors will be at the school all week, and some of the homecoming events will be canceled or changed to show respect for those involved.
Meanwhile, police are continuing their investigation into who's responsible for causing the crash that has brought so much pain to the small community.
"There's just a lot of tension about who to blame and what's going to happen next," Armas said. "We're grieving about everything, not just the death, but everyone that's affected, whether psychologically and actually physically."
Students at Columbia High have planned a candlelight vigil at Lake Desoto at 8 p.m. Tuesday.
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