Authorities tie Orange County fatal crash to illegal racing

Rural road faceoff suspected in crash

ablythe@newsobserver.comJanuary 1, 2013 

  • Street racing can kill August 1999: The drivers of a Ford Thunderbird and Honda Prelude got into an impromptu race down Hillsborough Street in Raleigh. The Thunderbird hit the rear of the Prelude and sent it spinning into a telephone pole at 70 mph, killing 22-year-old Gregg Ramsey of Oxford. A 26-year-old hair stylist named Dustin Christopher Stamey, of Raleigh, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to at least two years in state prison. May 2001: Four Wake County high school students were killed on Interstate 540 when their Mitsubishi Eclipse convertible slammed into a van carrying a family coming back from a church kindergarten graduation. It took two years, but the mother of one of the victims found evidence they had been racing another man and gave it to investigators. In 2004, Chris G. Petersen pleaded guilty to four counts of misdemeanor death by vehicle and one count of racing . According to his driving record, he already had a past conviction for racing in Florida. November 2002: The Highway Patrol charged two teenage soldiers in Fayetteville with involuntary manslaughter after a wreck. They were accused of racing a third teen, who was thrown from his car and killed. It’s not clear how that case was resolved. June 2008: A man and a passenger were killed after his car hit a tree on Capital Boulevard. Police said he was going at least 105 mph in a Ford Mustang Cobra. Another passenger survived – the only one wearing a seat belt. Investigators considered street racing as a factor but didn’t conclude that a race was taking place, Raleigh police spokesman Jim Sughrue said.

At a time when Orange County high school students typically would be greeting the dawning of a new year and talking excitedly about the life ahead, many huddled on a rural roadside somberly reminded of cruel finalities.

William Daniel Chase Underhill and Kacie Leann Chamberlain, both 16 and both Orange High students, were killed Saturday night on Little River Church Road in northern Orange County in a wreck that law enforcement officers contend was tied to illegal street racing.

As mourners gathered for a wrenching farewell under a bleak wintry sky at the wreck site northeast of Hillsborough on Monday, Collin Parker Lunsford, 17, of 2500 Little River Church Road, made a first appearance in Orange County District Court.

Lunsford went before District Court Judge Jay Bryan accused of one count of prearranged speed competition, one count of reckless driving and two counts of misdemeanor death by vehicle.

N.C. Highway Patrol Trooper Stephan Foster contends Lunsford and Underhill were racing at about 10:30 p.m. Saturday on Little River Church Road at speeds in excess of 90 mph.

Lunsford’s 2005 Chevrolet 1500 did not make contact with Underhill’s Ford F250 before it began to skid, Foster said.

The Ford F250 ran off the left side of the rural road, according to troopers, then after the driver overcorrected, the truck left the right side of the road and crashed into a mailbox before thudding into a tree.

Lunsford and the two passengers in his Chevy truck turned around and returned to the scene of the crash, where they called 911. EMS and firefighters from Caldwell Volunteer Fire Department responded before Foster arrived.

McCray Williams, 15, and Sam Whaley, 16, were also in the truck with the teens who died. They were injured and airlifted to Duke University Medical Center. Whaley remained in the hospital Tuesday night, according to friends and family. Williams was released Tuesday.

Not yet a ‘culture of racing’

Foster has been with the Orange County trooper station for about a year and said he hasn’t seen a “culture of racing” among local teens. There were no spectators Saturday night. The information troopers were able to gather came from those involved in the wreck, and the investigation continues.

“This wasn’t where a bunch of folks were meeting to race or anything like that,” Foster said.

Over the years, the state Highway Patrol has tried to crack down on street racing, hoping to curb organized events in which racers sometimes travel at speeds of 150 mph and spectators drove as fast as 120 mph to keep up.

In 2008, after Internet videos, Hollywood movies and media reports glamorizing street racing caused a resurgence in the risky activities, the state Highway Patrol launched “Operation DRIFT,” or “Don’t Race in Front of Troopers.” They described it as the largest illegal street-racing bust of its kind in state history.

Capital Blvd. to rural roads

Raleigh’s Capital Boulevard was considered a hot spot for illegal racing.

But rural roads, with their twists and turns and long straight-aways also have beckoned many young drivers with a hankering for racing.

Penalties for prearranged racing can include fines and up to 120 days in jail and revocation of a drivers’ license for three years. Cars used for prearranged speed competition are seized by authorities. If their owners are convicted, the vehicles can be sold at auction or used by police.

Convictions can also result in insurance points, an added expense.

Lunsford, who, according to investigators has been cooperative with law enforcement officers, is scheduled to appear in court again on Jan. 24.

Blythe: 919-836-4948

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