5 Oklahoma college students dead after pickup crashes, falls off bridge near Tahlequah
CHEROKEE COUNTY, Okla. (KTUL) - Five teenagers are dead after a crash near Tahlequah, according to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.
A 2006 Chevrolet Colorado was driving southbound on Welling Road a few miles southeast of Tahlequah around 10:40 p.m. Sunday when it left the roadway and struck a guardrail, according to OHP. The pickup then came back onto the roadway, drove through a railing on the left and off a bridge.
OHP says the truck fell about 35 feet on its top into the river and fully submerged in the water.
The driver, 18-year-old Donovan Caldwell of Muskogee, and all four passengers were pronounced dead at the scene. OHP has identified the passengers as 18-year-old Jessica Swartwout, 19-year-old Drake Wells, 18-year-old Lily Murphy and 18-year-old Rhianna Seely.
Northeastern State University President Steve Turner confirmed that all five victims were students at the university.
"I cannot fathom the pain the families and friends of these young people are going through as a result of this terrible and tragic accident," Barton wrote in a message to the campus. "My thoughts and prayers are with them this morning."
Here's Turner's full message to the university:
Dear NSU Family,
Just before 1:00 am, I was contacted by Campus Police and informed that five NSU students were killed in an auto accident in proximity to the Welling Bridge, south of Tahlequah. The news was devastating and crushing.
The Oklahoma Highway Patrol reports the driver was as 18-year-old Donovan Caldwell of Muskogee. The passengers were identified as 18-year-old Jessica Swartwout of McAlester; 19-year-old Drake Wells of Thackerville; 18-year-old Rhianna Seely of Salina and 18-year-old Lily Murphy of Gentry, AR. Their families have been notified.
I cannot fathom the pain the families and friends of these young people are going through as a result of this terrible and tragic accident. My thoughts and prayers are with them this morning.
Activities have been underway throughout the night to provide counselors for the friends and co-students. Notification of the faculty who taught the students is underway. If you feel you need help in any way, please contact HawkReach Counseling Services at 918-444-2042 or Student Affairs at 918-444-2120. I have every confidence in the compassion of the NSU family to pull together and support those who are experiencing so much pain and sadness.
This will have a profound effect on all of us and Northeastern State University for many years to come. Supporting our students, faculty and staff will remain our top priority.
The NSU Community will be updated regarding memorial services and other related details as they become available.
Steve Turner Ph.D.
Northeastern State University
A candlelight vigil for the students is planned for 7:30 p.m. Monday at Second Century Square.
Tim Gardenhigh is a member of a fraternity one of the victims, Drake Wells, was pledging.
"We were all shocked. And it kind of took our breath away," said Gardenhigh. "He was just really gung ho about the whole thing. He was excited to be a part of something bigger than himself."
Gardenhigh says it was Wells' birthday, which makes the whole thing even more tragic.
"And so, it's like, you celebrate somebody's birth on their birthday. You shouldn't be gathering for something like this," said Gardenhigh.
Nicholas Young was friends with Caldwell.
"I saw them that day, and I shook Donovan's hand," said Young.
He'd give anything to go back to that moment.
"If I knew it was the last time I was ever going to see him, I'd tell him I love him," said Young.
Ben Hardcastle with NSU said everyone on campus, in some way, has been affected.
"This is by far the biggest loss that the university has felt in a single day," said Hardcastle. "So this has been a tragic day, but it's also been a day when this campus has never been closer."