ROLESVILLE — Friends and classmates of three Wake Forest-Rolesville High School students killed in a Sunday night car crash struggled Monday to understand how so many good kids could be lost in a single moment of bad judgment.
A fourth student was seriously injured and remained at WakeMed.
"They were just great kids, the kind of kids you want hanging around your kids," said Jeff Pethel, minister of youth and education at Rolesville Baptist Church, where all four young men had been Sunday night just before the accident happened. Pethel, who has a daughter about the age of the four, said he would have been happy for her to have dated any one of them. "They were that good," he said.
Austin Flowers, 16, of Wake Forest was driving the 2011 Dodge Challenger that troopers say went out of control at high speed on Old Pearce Road at about 8:40 p.m. Sunday, crossed the center line, went off the shoulder on the opposite side of the road and crashed in the woods.
Passengers Lane Meyer, 16, of Wake Forest and Matt Speight, 17, of Raleigh also died in the accident.
Brenden Pearce, 16, of Wake Forest survived but was badly injured.
All were wearing seat belts, according to investigators with the N.C. Highway Patrol. A full accident report had not been finished Monday night.
David Speight, Matt's father, spoke to an informal gathering of the boys' friends at the church Monday afternoon.
"He talked about how blessed he was that Matt was so happy and how much he loved life," said Kelly Pompi, whose son attends the same high school. Speight talked about how Matt was looking forward to graduating on Friday, which also would have been his 18th birthday. He wanted to go to Wake Tech and hoped to play baseball for the school team.
"God had other plans," Speight told the group.
All four boys were athletes. Lane played soccer with his cousin, Brenden, for Wake-Forest Rolesville and for a Capital Area Soccer League team. Austin played football for the Wake Forest-Rolesville Cougars.
At the crash site Monday, teammates and friends left flowers, notes and mementos at the base of three white-painted wooden crosses that had been placed facing the road: a soccer ball at one, a football at another and a baseball and basketball at the third. Red and yellow roses, orange daylilies and other flowers brightened the spot, yards from where the car came to rest against a stout pine tree.
Car was birthday gift
The car had been a birthday gift to Austin on his 16th birthday earlier this month. Pompi said her son, Dominick, saw the picture of it on Austin's Facebook page and was jealous.
At 16, Austin couldn't even drive after 9 p.m. without an adult, and Pompi worried about such a young driver having such a fast car. But Dominick, who played football with Austin, assured his mom, "Austin wouldn't open that thing up."
There must have been a hundred girls at the church meeting Monday afternoon, Pompi said. And while a few boys attended, too, they seemed more drawn to the accident site.
They came throughout the day, alone or in groups, and walked the path the car had taken off the road and into the trees. They picked up pieces left from the crash - a shattered mirror, a splintered signal housing - and tucked these into their glove boxes as reminders.
"So they can remember what not to do," Pompi said.
Just last week, Lane and Brenden were at tryouts for a CASL soccer team and had learned they would move up a tier to a Premier team. Michael Walters, their coach last year, said he chose Lane to be his team captain and that Brenden, on his own, stepped up to help.
Lane was a smart soccer player, Walters said, and a good leader.
Last year, when Walters was unable to attend a championship game in Charlotte, Lane got the team organized and warmed up to play.
"They went out and won the game," he said.
Lane was considering several colleges, Walters said, including Appalachian State University, where he hoped to get a partial scholarship through soccer.
Hundreds of people were expected to attend a candlelight vigil at the high school football field Monday evening in honor of the boys and in support of their families.
"It's a tight community," said Randy Bridges, senior pastor at Rolesville Baptist, where the four friends had had supper Sunday night, followed by Bible study and then free time, which they used to play basketball in the gym as they did almost every week.
Gathering at church
After they learned of the accident Sunday night, youth and their parents returned to the church, where some stayed until 3 a.m.
Lane was the first to be baptized in the church, Bridges said. Brenden was baptized there two weeks ago, and Matt was to go through the ceremony in a couple of weeks. Austin regularly attended youth activities at the church on Sunday nights but wasn't a member, Bridges said.
The boys had just finished "Operation in as Much" at the church, a youth outreach program, and planned to attend a mission trip to Washington this summer to help the city's homeless, said Brian Keith, a church member.
Monday, the church was open for friends to grieve, to talk with grief counselors and one another.
Bridges announced that Brenden Pearce had gone into surgery at 4:30 p.m. Monday and was expected to be sedated for a couple of more days.
Brenden's condition improved Monday, and his doctors are hopeful.
Bridges read a statement from the Myers family encouraging friends to lean on one another and to "be safe out there."
Grief counselors will be available at the school all week.
Pompi said the students she saw on Monday, some of whom were supposed to be taking final exams, looked lost. They don't know the language of grief, she said. It makes no sense to them that three of their friends could be taken away so quickly.
"They just saw them all last night," she said. "And they woke up in the morning and three of them were gone."
Staff writer Amy Dunn and staff researcher Peggy Neal contributed to this report.
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