Three lifelong friends die in Harnett wreck after flight from checkpoint

tmcdonald@newsobserver.comNovember 11, 2013 

— Shane Mitchell Garner, Austin Stewart Ferrell and Casey Dell Edens all grew up together.

Early Sunday, the lifelong friends died together when the pickup truck they were in sped away from a police checkpoint, ran off the road, slammed into a tree and burst into flames.

Garner, 23, Ferrell, 20, and Edens, 16, died at the scene.

Two other teens were seriously injured, but survived, the N.C. State Highway Patrol reported.

Emergency workers rushed Autumn Ashlyn Zimmer, a 17-year-old junior at Harnett Central High, and Marina Troyano, also 17, of Fuquay-Varina, to WakeMed in Raleigh.

Zimmer was listed in serious condition Monday afternoon. Troyano was in fair condition, a WakeMed spokeswoman reported.

State troopers were dispatched about 2:30 a.m. Sunday to the single-vehicle crash on Neills Creek Road, near Buies Creek, according to First Sgt. Jeff Gordon, a N.C. Highway Patrol spokesman. They found a white 2013 Silverado Z71 wrapped around a tree and in flames.

The emergency responders managed to pull four of the five occupants out of the burning truck, but they could not immediately remove Ferrell, who was in the front passenger seat of the truck, Gordon said.

State troopers later learned that Garner was behind the wheel of the truck when it fled a license checkpoint set up by the Lillington Police Department on U.S. 421 near Campbell University. The Silverado “approached the checkpoint but failed to stop,” Gordon said.

Lillington authorities reported that Garner then lost control of the vehicle, veered left and crossed the center line before the pickup hurtled off the highway, striking a large tree and bursting into flames.

Lillington investigators believe alcohol may have been a factor in the crash, according to a police department news release.

Traci Ferrell, of Lillington, said she last saw her son, Austin, Friday afternoon. The two had a mother-and-son day, shopping and lunching at a Chick-fil-A in Smithfield. Afterward, she dropped him off at his older brother’s home, where he was staying.

“The last thing he said to me was, ‘I love you mom,’” Traci Ferrell said Monday. “Now it’s what I have to hold onto.”

Austin Ferrell graduated from Harnett Central High School in 2011 and was between jobs, she said. He was planning to enroll at Central Piedmont Community College in the upcoming spring and study welding.

Traci Ferrell said her youngest child was a “comical” young man, who was full of life and had lots of friends, including those with him in the early morning wreck.

“I knew three of them,” she said. “They all grew up together in Buies Creek.”

Shirley and Jeff Zimmer were at WakeMed on Monday when the medical staff upgraded their daughter, Autumn, from a critical to serious status.

Zimmer said his daughter is a straight-A student who works at two jobs located in Angier and Fuquay-Varina.

“Hopefully, she will be okay in a couple of days,” he said. “But she’s not out of the woods yet.”

News researcher Peggy Neal contributed to this report.

McDonald: 919-829-4533

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