By Shelley Grieshop
Two area high school graduates were killed early this morning in an accident on Ohio 29, north of the village of New Knoxville.
The driver, Rachael M.P. Harris, 18, 112 N. Vine St., St. Marys, and her passenger, Heidi M. Thornburg, 18, 705 E. Spring St., St. Marys, were both pronounced dead at the scene of the 5:32 a.m. accident.
Unsafe speed and alcohol are suspected as factors in the crash, according to Sgt. Cortrell McCruter of the Wapakoneta post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol.
Both teens received their high school diplomas this past weekend. Harris graduated from St. Marys Memorial High School on Sunday; Thornburg graduated with her class at Wapakoneta High School on Saturday and recently moved to the city of St. Marys.
According to the state patrol, Harris was driving a 1992 Mercury Topaz west on Ohio 29, toward St. Marys and just west of Glynwood-New Knoxville Road, when the car's tire dropped into the gravel along the berm of the roadway. Harris reportedly lost control of the vehicle, which traveled off the right side of the road and struck a utility pole that snapped in half. The car came to rest in a field, the report said.
McCruter said it appears both occupants were wearing shoulder belts but not lap belts, and were found deceased inside the car when emergency crews arrived.
McCruter said it's not clear where the girls were heading. A lack of identification on both women reportedly made it difficult for law enforcement officers to contact family members.
"An officer with St. Marys PD (police department) came out to the scene and recognized one of the girls," McCruter explained.
McCruter said the information provided by the police officer led them to Harris' home.
"This is never easy, telling the parents that their child's gone," McCruter said. "In this case, the girl's mother thought she was upstairs sleeping. She had no idea."
Harris was a student in the Tri Star senior computer support program held in Celina.
"This is a parent's worst nightmare," St. Marys High School Principal Mike Makley told The Daily Standard this morning. "Even as a principal, you don't ever want to hear that one of your students was killed so tragically."
Thornburg spent her last two years of high school split between classes at Wapakoneta and Apollo Career Center in Lima, where she was enrolled in the commercial foods operation program.
Carol Bodeen, the high school director at Apollo, said Thornburg completed two years in the program, was a good student and had overcome some difficult family situations.
"She really worked hard here and we were very proud of her," Bodeen added.