As the crushing news shook a small Indiana town to its core this week, there was disbelief. This can’t be happening. Not here. Not again.
Two pickup trucks carrying students from South Ripley High School in Versailles, Ind., slammed into each other Thursday, killing three teenagers and rousing the collective grief of this farming town where three previous roadway tragedies recently killed four other youths.
“It’s a recurring theme,” said Marc Rulli, who owns the chili restaurant in town where students gathered for a vigil. “This means three funerals. It has got to stop.”
In May, a 15-year-old South Ripley freshman died after the all-terrain vehicle she was riding flipped over. In December, an 18-year-old girl from neighboring Osgood was killed when she lost control of her van while texting. And in March 2011, two young sisters and students at South Ripley Elementary School died when a semi-truck slammed into the back of their family’s pickup.
“Versailles is very small and tight-knit, so obviously this hit real hard,” Indiana State Police Sgt. Noel Houze said.
The three dead in the latest crash — Timothy Bowman, 17, Jacob Vogel, 18, and Samantha Hansen,18 — were high school members of the Future Farmers of America. Three other teenagers were hospitalized with injuries not considered life-threatening.
The six students had showed up at a local Baptist church early to serve breakfast at a school-approved Future Farmers of America function. Hansen was club president. They left around 9:30 a.m., two boys hopping into a Ford F520 and the others into a Dodge Ram 3500.
The trucks took different routes, and collided at a four-way stop, Houze said. A crash reconstruction determined that neither truck stopped at the intersection. They ended up mangled together in a snowy cornfield about 100 feet from where they collided. Asked at a news conference about reports that the trucks had been racing, Houze declined to comment because the investigation is ongoing.
South Ripley Community Schools Supt. Rob Moorhead told reporters that the event at the church was scheduled to run all day and that he didn’t know why the students had left early.
“These were truly wonderful kids, and it’s a deep loss for the entire school community,” Moorhead said. “This community has been through a lot of grief. We’re in need of prayer.”
The campus of about 280 students was in shock.
“It’s a very quiet atmosphere,” Houze said Friday after speaking with the superintendent and principal. “It’s not the typical laughing and joking and cutting up. It’s impacted them pretty bad.”
Tears filled the eyes of Stacie Koger, a senior, as she spoke about the deaths.
“It’s just really troubling to see that my senior classmates have to deal with, our senior year, losing three amazing people,” Koger told Cincinnati’s WCPO-TV. “We’re just all trying to hold hands and walk each other through each day and just get by.”
Hansen — “Sam,” to many — was one of the first employees Rulli hired when Gold Star Chili opened in town about two years ago.
She was dedicated to the Future Farmers of America club and she counted the days until her graduation. She planned to study nursing in college.
“She led a life of service,” Rulli said. “She had vision. She loved life.”
Bowman liked to hunt deer and raccoon, and Vogel was a cadet with the Friendship Fire Department, according to obituaries posted on the website of the funeral home handling services.
As the community braces for back-to-back funerals early this week, they still struggle with an underlying question: Why here, again?
“A lot of people are looking for answers,” Rulli said. “And there may not ever be answers.”ALSO: