The SUV that flipped and rolled off a northeastern Pennsylvania road last weekend, killing three Bucks County teenagers, was driven by a 15-year-old New York girl who may have been speeding, authorities said Tuesday.
As Council Rock South High School and its community opened the school year facing a numbing succession of funerals and memorial services, investigators prepared possible charges in the case.
Wayne County District Attorney Janine Edwards declined to identify the driver or the charges, except to say they would be processed in juvenile court. Licensed drivers in New York must be at least 16.
"This is a parent's worst nightmare and a terrible tragedy that the Pennsylvania State Police will investigate to the fullest," she said.
Her brief statement, issued Tuesday afternoon, included the first detailed description of the crash that killed 15-year-old sophomores Cullen Keffer, Shamus Digney, and Ryan Lesher outside Wallenpaupack Lake Estates, a quiet mountain community of houses and cabins where residents travel by golf cart to the nearby lake.
The girl's father owned a house in the development, Edwards said. He was also the registered owner of the 2001 Chevrolet Suburban that flipped multiple times as it hit a bend on a road about a mile from the development's main entrance.
According to the prosecutor, the driver and a 16-year-old female passenger, both from around Westchester County, north of New York City, had picked up their four male passengers, all Council Rock students, in the development that morning and driven to a local restaurant for breakfast.
She did not say why the boys were in the area, but property records indicate that Lesher's parents own a house in Wallenpaupack Lake Estates.
"Upon their return to the development traveling around a left hand curve the vehicle's right tire traveled off the road way, and the vehicle flipped over more than one time," Edwards' statement said. An unnamed witness told investigators the SUV appeared to be speeding, she said.
One area resident, Marie Drobnicki, told The Inquirer she was doing yard work Saturday morning when she heard a vehicle screeching down the steep curve in front of her house.
Then she heard boys screaming from inside the SUV.
"Slow down! Slow down!" they yelled, Drobnicki said Tuesday.
She said she saw the SUV hit a patch of gravel, and turn sharply around the bend, skidding along the edge of a ditch and out of sight behind trees.
Then, Drobnicki said, she heard smashing, crashing, and shattering glass. "The sound was horrific," she said.
Drobnicki said she walked through her yard to the crash scene and saw one boy lying in the road behind the SUV, a second pinned beneath the overturned vehicle, and a third lying on her lawn.
He appeared to be dead, she said.
Drobnicki said she stood nearby and watched for hours as paramedics and police officers arrived. She said she was shaken and upset, but unable to walk away.
"I'm still hearing those boys yelling, 'Slow down! Slow down!' " she said Tuesday. "I can't get it out of my mind."
The curve where the crash occurred is particularly dangerous, said Drobnicki, 68. During one recent winter, she said, she recorded 14 car accidents in a journal she keeps.
Signs of the crash were still visible Tuesday. Purple latex gloves lay on Drobnicki's lawn, and tire marks marred the grass where the SUV had skidded.
Keffer, of Holland, was dead at the scene. Digney, of Holland, and Lesher, of Churchville, died Saturday afternoon at Geisinger-Community Medical Center in Scranton, according to the Lackawanna County Coroner's Office.
The driver, her female passenger, and another passenger - a boy from Council Rock - were treated and released from area hospitals.
Edwards, the prosecutor, did not say Tuesday whether the driver was in custody.
"When criminal charges are filed, they will be done so pursuant to the Pennsylvania Juvenile Act and under said law, criminal juvenile matters are not disclosed to the public," she said.
She did not elaborate.
Juvenile cases typically move much more quickly through the system, particularly if the child is detained, said Michele Kelly Walsh, chief of the Juvenile Division in the Bucks County District Attorney's Office.
If a minor is locked up after being charged, a detention hearing must be held within 72 hours to determine if authorities have a strong case and should continue to keep him or her in custody, she said.
Edwards released the news hours after Council Rock High School South opened its doors for freshman orientation Tuesday and as police continued their investigation.
The 2,100-student school and its surrounding community also prepared for a week of services to remember the teenagers.
A few thousand people - parents, students, and faculty - packed the high school's basketball gymnasium to remember the students. A poster-size photo of each teen stood at the front of the room.
Several students shared memories of their three friends, often fighting tears.
Many who spoke were athletes, including players on the basketball and lacrosse teams, paying tribute with their teammates huddled around them in support. Lesher was known as a natural leader, Digney for a longer-than-normal haircut he once sported and for his sense of humor, and Keffer for his fearless determination as a freshman last year on the varsity lacrosse team.
A day at a time
There were no obvious signs of the grief as hundreds of new students poured into the school for orientation Tuesday morning. Classes for the rest of the school start Wednesday.
On Monday, Mark Klein, superintendent of the Council Rock School District, said his message to the school was to handle the grieving "one day at a time."
Each day of the week will bring another service to remember the teenagers.
Keffer's viewing will be Wednesday from 5 to 9 p.m. at the Joseph A. Fluehr funeral home in Richboro. His services the next day will be private.
There will be a viewing for Lesher on Thursday from 5 to 9 p.m. at St. John's United Methodist Church in Ivyland, and another Friday from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. at the church. The funeral will follow.
Viewings for Digney will take place at St. Bede the Venerable Church in Holland from 5 to 9 p.m. Friday, and from 10 to 11 a.m. Saturday. A Funeral Mass will begin after Saturday's viewing.
Staff writer Alfred Lubrano contributed to this article.