MONROE — A crash Friday afternoon that killed three high school sophomores and left a 35-year-old woman fighting for her life has this city of 11,000 in mourning.
The students were “similar in that they were all really well-liked kids,” said Monroe High School Principal Chris Medenwaldt, taking a break from a grief session at the school Sunday afternoon. “They had the ability to be friends with anyone.”
Meanwhile, a few miles from the school, a parade of vehicles stopped by the crash site to pay respects to the victims. By noon Sunday, 20 floral bouquets had been laid inside one quadrant of the ordinary-looking rural intersection.
The ground was charred and muddy where at least one of the two vehicles involved in the crash came to rest. One of the vehicles was on fire when first responders arrived, the Green County Sheriff’s office said, but it didn’t identify which one.
A young volunteer EMT stopped in her truck and took in the stark scene Sunday. It was the hardest case she’d worked in her three years on the job, she said.
“I’ve never had a kid fatality, let alone three,” she said, not wanting to give her name.
Marvin Hardy came by because he said his 20-year-old daughter knew the driver of the car carrying the high school students. He said his daughter, who has developmental disabilities and has had many people in her circle of friends die in the past few years, takes death hard.
Hardy said he wanted to see the scene for himself before bringing her.
Missed stop sign
The Green County Sheriff’s Office identified the driver as Gage P. Noble, 16, of rural Monroe, who died at the scene. His passengers were Anya T.L. Teasdale, 16, and Joseph T. Wyss, 15, also of Monroe, who were taken by medical helicopter to UW Hospital, where they died Saturday, the Sheriff’s Office said.
The crash happened at 2:20 p.m. in the township of Clarno, two miles south of Monroe. According to the Sheriff’s Office, Gage was driving a sedan west on Melvin Road and failed to stop at a stop sign at Clarno Road and hit a truck that was heading north.
The driver of the truck, Jennifer L. Hopkins, 35, of rural Monroe, remained hospitalized in serious condition Sunday, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
Sgt. Britt Gempeler said alcohol wasn’t a factor in the crash and would not say whether inattentive driving was a cause.
“It’s still hard to believe,” said Michael Teasdale, Anya’s great-uncle, who described Anya as “very friendly.”
Teasdale said his nephew, Anya’s father, who didn’t return a voicemail or text from the State Journal, was “destroyed by the whole thing.”
Friends gather at school
At the school, a group of Anya’s friends asked permission to decorate her locker as a tribute. They shared a group hug there Sunday and were all in tears as they left remembrances on it.
“She was friends with everyone and liked by everyone,” said Amanda Santoro, 16. “She made class fun. I’ve heard that from a lot of people. She lightened the atmosphere in the room.”
Gempeler, of the Sheriff’s Office, said he didn’t know where the students were going. He said he couldn’t answer whether the car was traveling at a high rate of speed, citing the ongoing investigation.
“We empathize with the families of those involved in the crash and throughout the community in this difficult time,” he said.
‘Friends with everybody’
The high school has about 700 students and the three sophomores were known by almost everyone, the principal said. “That’s part of what makes this difficult for a lot of people.”
The school day normally ends just before 3:30 p.m., but on Friday, the three students were taking advantage of a program called Responsibility Pass, which allows them to leave the building during study hall, Medenwaldt said. He didn’t know where they were going, either.
Gage had a role in the school play, “Willy Wonka,” which was supposed to start its run the night of the crash, Medenwaldt said. The play has been postponed, but no new dates have been set.
Joe was a hockey player, who always had a smile on his face, said Jeff Newcomer, the school’s athletic director. “It seemed like he was friends with everybody... He knew everybody and talked to everybody.”
Newcomer said he could see the image of Joe in his mind, proudly wearing his school colors on game days — a white shirt and red bow tie. “He was a happy-go-lucky kid.”
Counselors were available at the school Saturday and Sunday and will be again Monday, Medenwaldt said. About 100 students and parents visited over the weekend, he said.
“We’re just trying to provide a safe place for kids to be together, which is what they need as much as anything,” Medenwaldt said.
A candlelight vigil was held Saturday night at the city square. A GoFundMe account for the students had raised $9,036 of its $10,000 goal by midnight Sunday.
The high school student body and community have both been “overwhelmingly supportive,” Medenwaldt said. “We’re not a very big community, so when something happens, everybody comes together and that’s been the case for this.”
“She was friends with everyone and liked by everyone. She made class fun. I’ve heard that from a lot of people. She lightened the atmosphere in the room.” Amanda Santoro, 16,
on classmate Anya T.L. Teasdale